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May meets Japanese Emperor after brushing off leadership questions

The Prime Minister spent 20 minutes in private talks with Japan’s symbolic figurehead at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo.

Theresa May has been given an audience with Emperor Akihito on the last day of her visit to Japan.

After two days of talks on trade and security with Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe, the Prime Minister steered clear of hard politics in the final hours of the trip.

At the Imperial Palace in Tokyo, Mrs May spent 20 minutes in private talks with Japan’s symbolic figurehead, who is expected to abdicate following ill health in the coming months.

Theresa May watches a game of wheelchair basketball between Great Britain and Australia during the Wheelchair Basketball World Challenge Cup in Tokyo (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

The Prime Minister later headed off to watch a game of wheelchair basketball between Great Britain and Australia being held as part of the world challenge cup before meeting business leaders at an embassy reception.

Downing Street sources said the visit to Japan had been “highly successful” after Mrs May and Mr Abe agreed to boost defence links.

The Japanese premier’s decision to say he had faith in the future of the British economy after Brexit also “particularly pleased” No 10.

The source said there had always been a close and friendly relationship between the UK and Japan but it has “gone up a level” after the visit.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe welcomes Theresa May to the Akasaka Guest House in Tokyo with an official welcoming ceremony (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

Mr Abe told reporters the Prime Minister had been forceful in her reassurance about the Brexit process – a sign of Mrs May’s upbeat, confident approach, according to the source.

Mrs May spent the first two days of the visit in a series of meetings and visits with Mr Abe in Kyoto and Japan.

But she sparked a wave of criticism back in the UK after telling reporters she was “not a quitter” and planned to lead the Conservative party into 2022 general election.

Former party chairman Grant Shapps said it was “too early” for Mrs May to talk about going “on and on” like Margaret Thatcher.

Nicky Morgan said it would be difficult for Theresa May to fight the next election as leader (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

Nicky Morgan, a former education secretary, who was sacked by the Prime Minister when she entered Downing Street, said it would be “difficult” for Mrs May to fight the next election as leader.

But the PM dismissed the criticism, insisting the public wants the Government to “get on with the job” of dealing with the challenges facing the country.

International Trade Secretary Liam Fox, who was in Japan with a UK business delegation, told Sky News: “Well I think that we will look at the Prime Minister’s record.

“We had a vote share in the general election that was the highest since Margaret Thatcher’s landslide in 1983. That’s almost been overlooked in the analysis of the election.

“I think the Prime Minister continues to lead us with courage and conviction. And she certainly would have my continued support for as long as she wished to continue as leader.”

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