Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW)/日本からの意見

Brexit does not doom Japan-Britain partnership.
NUMATA Sadaaki  / Chairman, The English-Speaking Union of Japan

July 13, 2016
The outcome of the Brexit referendum has sent shockwaves not just in Britain and Europe, but also in Japan. The outpouring of media reports and speculations, mainly pessimistic, casts a dark shadow over the future of the long-nurtured partnership between Japan and Britain. But the jury is still out.

I lived in Britain in the late 1960s, when Britain was yet to join the European Community because of continued "Non" by Charles de Gaulle. I lived again in London in the late 1990s, when Britain was very much a part of Europe, and the debate was whether it would join the single currency. I have since noted Britain's metamorphosis into a diverse, multicultural, vibrant society open to Europe and to the rest of the world.

When I heard that the "Leave" side had won, I wondered if Britain has become inward looking, nationalistic, populist and xenophobic? If so, what has happened over the past quarter of a century? Before jumping to conclusions, let us see what the referendum signified.

Firstly, it was the fury against immigration, globalization and the establishment that translated into a vote to reject the EU. According to the Lord Ashcroft polls, nearly half (49%) of Leave voters said the biggest single reason for wanting to leave the EU was "the principle that decisions about the UK should be taken in the UK". One third (33%) said the main reason was that leaving "offered the best chance for the UK to regain control over immigration and its own borders." The "Leave" campaign slogans such as "Take back control", "Dawn breaking on an independent United Kingdom" and "Britain left 'unrecognizable' by mass immigration" had more visceral resonance with the voters than the "Remain" campaign's rational arguments on the economic merits of EU membership. There is also British antipathy to EU's bureaucracy and regulations.

Secondly, the result revealed deep divisions across Britain. Prosperous London and Scotland voted by large margins to stay in, and working-class towns, seaside resorts and rural England heavily backed Leave. The older the voters, the more likely they were to have voted to leave the EU. A majority of those with a university degree voted to remain, while a large majority of those whose formal education ended at secondary school or earlier voted to leave. A little more than half of the white voters voted to leave, but a majority of the Asian and black voters voted to remain. These divisions cut across party lines, which may lead to identity crises on the part of the political parties.

Thirdly, though the Leave voters won, there is no blueprint charting Britain's future role in Europe. Speculations abound as to what kind of option may be chosen for the post-Brexit trade relationship between Britain and the EU, which would require a cool-headed assessment of the trade–offs between continuing to reap the benefits of the single market and ceding a part of "control" to the EU in terms of policies and regulations on immigration and other matters. Britain will likely be faced with a choice between reconciliation and confrontation with the EU. Fearful of Brexit contagion, continental Europe might be inclined to see Britain learn a painful lesson. Would it cause the British government to scale back its ambitions and prepare the ground for a tactical retreat, or, in retaliation, start looking to break down European unity?

In the coming months, Britain will be trying to get its act together under the leadership of Prime Minister Theresa May, who belonged to the Remain group. Tough and prolonged negotiations are likely to follow between Britain and the EU over how Brexit will come into reality. In the meantime, instead of over-reacting to possible worst-case scenarios, we in Japan should analyze dispassionately how different permutations of Brexit might affect Japan.

Britain's role as the gateway to Europe for Japanese businesses may be considerably diminished. But the factors that have attracted more than 1,000 Japanese corporations with 140,000 employees, such as the English language, availability of skilled labor and R&D climate, are not likely to disappear any time soon. Nor are the reasons why the City has emerged as a global financial center and why Paris and Frankfurt have not: know-how, language, education, tax regimes and professional networks.

When he spoke at the Japan National Press Club on July the 1st, Tim Hitchens, British Ambassador to Japan, appealed to the Japanese government and businesses "not to underestimate your influence" and to tell Britain and the EU what they want from the Brexit negotiations. We should take advantage of the opportunity to try to influence the course of events. We should not underestimate either the tenacity and shrewdness of the British in adapting to changing circumstances.

Sadaaki Numata is former Ambassador to Canada and Deputy Head of Mission in London.
The English-Speaking Union of Japan

沼田 貞昭 / 日本英語交流連盟会長

2016年 7月 13日









一般社団法人 日本英語交流連盟

English Speaking Union of Japan > Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW) > Brexit does not doom Japan-Britain partnership.