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May wins Abe Brexit deal backing as she reaches out for union and Labour support

Japan’s PM said the ‘whole world’ wanted the UK to avoid a no-deal Brexit, as Downing Street said it was ready to make concessions on workers’ rights.

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Prime Minister Theresa May greets Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe outside 10 Downing Street (Victoria Jones/PA)

Prime Minister Theresa May greets Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe outside 10 Downing Street (Victoria Jones/PA)

Prime Minister Theresa May greets Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe outside 10 Downing Street (Victoria Jones/PA)

Theresa May got backing for her Brexit deal from her Japanese counterpart on Thursday, after reaching out to Labour and the unions for support to get it through Parliament.

Shinzo Abe said that avoiding a no-deal Brexit was “the wish of the whole world” as he extolled the relationship between the two nations on a visit to Downing Street.

His support came after Business Secretary Greg Clark had urged MPs across Parliament to work together to prevent the “disaster” of leaving the EU without a deal.

Downing Street also confirmed that Mrs May had “constructive” phone conversations about her Brexit deal with trade union big beast Len McClusky of Unite, a Brexit supporter and close confidant of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, as well as Tim Roache of the GMB.

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Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe with Theresa May (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe with Theresa May (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

PA Wire/PA Images

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe with Theresa May (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

Mr Corbyn had earlier suggested that Brexit could be delayed if Labour won a general election, to allow him more time to go back to Brussels and renegotiate the Withdrawal Agreement.

Mr Abe told a joint press conference with Mrs May in Downing Street that “the world is watching the UK as it exits the European Union”.

Highlighting the fact that Japanese firms have created 150,000 jobs in the UK, he added: “It is the strong will of Japan to further develop this strong partnership with the UK, to invest more into your country and to enjoy further economic growth with the UK.

“That is why we truly hope that a no-deal Brexit will be avoided, and in fact that is the whole wish of the whole world.”

Mr Clark had earlier said that after the Government suffered two Commons defeats over its Brexit plans in the space of 24 hours, it was clear that there was no majority for leaving the EU without an agreement.

As MPs prepared to embark on the second day of the resumed debate on Mrs May’s Brexit deal, Mr Clark said he would support a series of “indicative votes” to establish what sort of agreement could command a majority in the House.

Number 10 confirmed ministers would “consider very seriously” moves by Labour MPs to safeguard workers’ rights after Brexit in an attempt to win support for her deal, if the backbench amendment was selected by the Speaker.

The amendment would keep EU rules on pay and conditions, health and safety issues, and environmental standards.

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Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn delivers a speech on Brexit during a visit to OE Electrics in Wakefield (Danny Lawson/PA)

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn delivers a speech on Brexit during a visit to OE Electrics in Wakefield (Danny Lawson/PA)

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Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn delivers a speech on Brexit during a visit to OE Electrics in Wakefield (Danny Lawson/PA)

But Mr Corbyn said Labour did not “endorse or accept” the initiative, backing union leaders including the TUC’s Frances O’Grady, who said the amendment “makes no change to a bad deal for working people’s jobs and rights”.

Speaking on a visit to Wakefield in Yorkshire, the opposition leader said the widely-expected defeat for Mrs May’s deal next Tuesday would signal the failure of her leadership and of the Conservatives as a party of Government.

He urged MPs from across to House to back the motion of no confidence in the Government which Labour would table “at the moment we judge it to have the best chance of success”.

Asked if he agreed with shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer that an extension to the two-year Article 50 process may now be “inevitable”, Mr Corbyn said: “An extension would be a possibility because clearly there would have to be time to negotiate.”

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(PA Graphics)

(PA Graphics)

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(PA Graphics)

However, Environment Secretary Michael Gove gave a pithy response to Mr Corbyn’s ideas, describing them as “bollocks”.

Referring to reports shadow international trade secretary Barry Gardiner had described Labour’s official Brexit position in the same way, Mr Gove said: “I know, Mr Speaker, there are some distinguished citizens in this country who have put on their cars a poster or sticker saying bollocks to Brexit.

“But we now know from Labour’s own front bench that their official Brexit position is bollocks.”

Mrs May’s attempts to woo union leaders at the eleventh hour also seemed to have backfired.

After speaking to the PM, Mr Roache said he remained in favour of extending Article 50 to allow a second referendum.

He added: “After nearly three years I’m glad the Prime Minister finally picked up the phone.

“As you would expect, I was very clear about GMB’s position – the deal on the table isn’t good enough and non-binding assurances on workers’ rights won’t cut it.

“If the deal genuinely did the job for GMB members, our union would support it, but it doesn’t.”

PA