Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May, left, is welcomed by Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, right,
upon her arrival for a tea ceremony at Omotesenke Fushin’an in Kyoto, western Japan, Wednesday Aug. 30, 2017.
Many are aware of the uncertainty that Brexit-Britain’s democratic vote to leave the EU-has brought to Britain and the rest of the European Union. What many least expect is that Japan, as one of the world’s largest economies could play a pivotal role in rescuing Britain from the economic isolation that leaving the EU is predicted to cause. Theresa May traveled to Japan last week to meet Shinto Abe in order to negotiate a new trade agreement with Japan. If such trade deals prove successful for the U.K. economy, other nations might also be encouraged to leave the European Union.
Although there have been many claims that the campaign for Brexit was based on false promises of prosperity, will the keenness of the Japanese to offer a unique trade deal for Britain be enough to convince naysayers? May’s recent trip to Japan suggests that the Brexit plan is not isolationist because it has encouraged Britain to trade with the rest of the world. However, Japan’s alacrity to trade with Britain is counter-balanced by Abe’s insistence that the Brexit process be ‘predictable’ and transparent.
Therefore, before Britain takes a sigh of relief it would be sensible to consider whether Abe’s hopes can be met and whether direct control from Brussels will have to be replaced by the dominance of (Japanese) corporate interests. Leading Japanese companies were present at a delegation involving both May and Abe. Whilst this might be a concern to some, it is a promising sign for Japanese investors who are seeking new business opportunities in Britain. Although Britain is set to leave the E.U., the trade agreement with Japan is merely going to convert existing terms with Japan and the E.U. into British law. This is perhaps an indication that the Japanese are pleased with the conditions of trade with the EU and that Britain cannot offer them a better deal, yet at the same time it also shows that leaving the European Union does not have to entail giving up the legal benefits that go with membership nor has it weakened Britain’s leverage to have good relationships with important players like Japan.
Since May reaffirmed her commitment to deliver on Abe’s wishes for transparency and predictability, Japan may very well be the impetus behind smoother Brexit negotiations that will allay the fears of the British public. May’s commitment to honoring Japan’s wishes is a result of the dose of realism that came after a disappointing election result and a stalemate in the Brexit negotiations.
The inevitable challenges of guiding Britain through such an uncertain period has made Theresa May more careful and determined to have better relations with Japan which goes hand in hand with a softening of the hard Brexit stance that the Conservative party promised and is widely supported.