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Wednesday, 30 August 2017

Mrs May in Japan

I find it increasingly difficult to believe that Mrs May has any significant common sense at all. She demonstrates daily that she has no dress sense; and in the selection of her kitchen cabinet when she went into Number Ten she created a machine that came close to destroying her credibility with her party and her relations with her most necessary ministerial colleagues.

The Chairman of the EU Commission was quite right yesterday to assert that the position papers that have been cobbled together for the UK government lack both conceptual clarity and essential data. It appears that the Prime Minister - who was an indecisive 'Remainer' in the 2016 EU Referendum - has been bullied into quiescence by the noisy minority in her party who choose to believe that the narrow result of the Referendum must be interpreted to mean that the UK must leave the political Union and also the European Economic Area.

And now she has gone to Japan, where she will encounter almost-infinite courtesy but where it is most unlikely that anyone will speak directly to her of their country's attitude to the risks that are inherent for them in the present utterly unclear Brexit situation. Thousands of Japanese firms in both manufacturing and the financial services have established facilities and bases in Britain. One major factor in this is that London is [obviously] an English-speaking city so this suits the Japanese, most of whom are not great linguists but have been schooled in English for at least a decade of their lives. But a bigger factor than the use of English is that the UK is fully in the European Common Market and the customs union.

The "hard Brexiteer" position on the future relations of the UK with the EU will seem to the Japanese - who located their assets in Britain-in-Europe in good faith - to be a complete betrayal of the understanding on which they have invested so heavily in the United Kingdom. The Japanese are still keen on concepts of honour, and if Mrs May and her team dishonourably shuffle their papers and equivocate on the key question of whether Britain will remain in the European Economic Area after any 'transition period', Japanese finance will be withheld: and if Britain is sufficiently idiotic as to opt  openly for a 'hard Brexit' Japanese firms will be among the first to move assets out of Britain. There is no equivocation about this, and however much Mrs May might try to con herself by accepting Japanese courtesy as acceptance of any stance that she might take up, the fact remains that Japan will be strictly self-interested. Grandiloquent talk about "island peoples furthering their common interests in a wide trading world" will just be talk.

Britain outside the European Economic Area is only of minimal interest to Japan, as a minor market for some exports. The main Japanese concern about Britain, in the event of a 'hard Brexit', will be to get their assets out of the UK with the least possible loss of money and of 'face'.

Prime Minister Abe is an unusual Japanese: he is more capable of directly expressing his individual thoughts than are many of his compatriots: and he seems to be more willing than most to do it. There is just a small hope that he will be able to educate Mrs May [who is, indubitably, difficult to educate], but I am not optimistic.

Now that the Labour Party has approached a sensible position on Brexit, the Tory majority of 'moderates' are realising that they have very limited time to talk their leader into common sense. I doubt that she is capable of undergoing that learning process: if so, the sooner she is removed from office, the better.

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