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Japanese PM voices hope Britain can avoid no-deal Brexit

AFP / Stefan Rousseau Abe said Japanese businesses 'very much welcomed' May's draft divorce deal

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Thursday he hoped Britain would avoid crashing out of the European Union without an agreement, as he threw his support behind the government's contentious Brexit deal days before a vote by MPs.

Flanked by British Prime Minister Theresa May during a visit to London, Abe said Japanese businesses "very much welcomed" her draft divorce deal, which a majority of British lawmakers look set to reject in parliament next Tuesday amid fierce opposition.

"We truly hope that a no-deal Brexit will be avoided and in fact that is the... wish of the whole world," the Japanese leader told a Downing Street press conference.

"This draft agreement for transition and legal stability for Japanese businesses is very much welcomed," he added.

The endorsement came as pressure grew on May to rule out a no-deal Brexit if her agreement is rejected by MPs next week.

AFP/File / Daniel LEAL-OLIVAS Britain's Business Secretary Greg Clark has contradicted official government policy of not ruling out a no-deal Brexit

Business minister Greg Clark broke ranks earlier Thursday to warn that leaving the European Union on March 29 with no agreement in place would be a calamity.

It would be "a disastrous situation in which we move to the most rudimentary terms of trade with our closest partners," he told BBC radio.

However, May reiterated the only way for Britain to avoid leaving without an agreement was to back her plan.

"There is a good deal on the table," she said. "I want to see this deal getting through parliament."

- Triple blow -

Brexit-supporting Conservative MPs are opposed to the deal, arguing it leaves the country too closely tied to Europe, and May has already pulled the vote once with defeat looming.

Most MPs supported staying in the EU in the 2016 referendum, and many have vowed to do everything within their power to prevent a no-deal scenario.

But unless Britain actively decides to delay or revoke the legal process, it will leave the bloc at the end of March regardless.

In such a scenario, it would be forced to trade with the EU on World Trade Organization terms, which could mean much higher tariffs for some products such as cars.

Japanese firms have invested billions of pounds in Britain, and are especially crucial in the car industry, using the country as a business-friendly home from which to trade across the continent.

"Even post-Brexit Japan intends to maintain this very good relationship," Abe said when asked if Britain was jeopardising this.

"We truly hope that more investment will be done by Japanese businesses in the United Kingdom."

However the British car sector suffered a triple blow on Thursday when three of its biggest manufacturers, including Japanese firm Honda and US maker Ford, announced job and production cuts.

Indian-owned carmaker Jaguar Land Rover announced the largest redundancies, with plans to reduce its 44,000 workforce by 4,500 under plans to make £2.5 billion of cost savings.

May and Abe pledged new cooperation on robotics and artificial intelligence, while Japan also announced an end to a 13-year ban on British beef and lamb.

- General election threat -

May faces daunting odds in getting her deal passed, and was dealt a stinging defeat on Wednesday when MPs voted for an amendment demanding she produce new plans within three days if the agreement is voted down.

AFP / Oli SCARFF Britain's opposition Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn called for a general election to resolve the deadlock

Aiming to capitalise on her weakness, opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn on Thursday made a Brexit speech in Wakefield, northern England, in which he called for a general election to resolve the deadlock.

"If the government cannot pass its most important legislation, then there must be a general election at the earliest opportunity," he said.

Corbyn has said he will seek a vote of no confidence in the government if it loses next week's Brexit vote, which could force fresh elections.

Many in his party hope that he will call for a second referendum, but the veteran leftist, a long-time critic of the European Union, has so far resisted.

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