Japan’s prime minister has told Theresa May that avoiding a “no-deal” Brexit is “the wish of the whole world”.
Following talks in Downing Street, Shinzo Abe spoke of how “the world is watching the UK as it exits the EU”, as he cautioned against Britain departing the bloc without a withdrawal agreement.
Describing the UK as “the gateway to the European market” for Japan, Mr Abe highlighted how Japanese companies have created 150,000 jobs here.
And, expressing his country’s wish to “further develop this strong partnership”, Mr Abe said: “That is why we truly hope that a no-deal Brexit will be avoided, and in fact that is the wish of the whole world.”
With Mrs May battling to win backing for her Brexit deal ahead of next week’s crunch vote in the House of Commons, the prime minister was boosted by Mr Abe declaring his “total support” for her agreement.
However, asked by Sky News’ political editor Faisal Islam whether she would rule out a no-deal Brexit, Mrs May declined to do so.
The potential impact of a no-deal Brexit was also the subject of a cabinet split between Business Secretary Greg Clark and Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson.
As well as securing an international thumbs up for her deal from Mr Abe, the prime minister also spent Thursday engaged in efforts to boost domestic approval.
Mrs May held phone calls with union leaders Tim Roache, chief of GMB, and Len McCluskey, general secretary of Unite.
It was the first time Mrs May had spoken to either since becoming prime minister, with Downing Street describing the calls – which focused on workers’ rights protections in her Brexit deal – as “constructive”.
However, Mr Roache later revealed he had told the prime minister “her deal is a bad deal and flaky assurances on workers’ rights won’t cut it”, as he demanded a delay to Brexit and a second EU referendum.
It came as the government also made overtures to backbench Labour MPs from Leave-supporting constituencies.
As MPs continued their debate on the PM’s Brexit deal, Business Secretary Greg Clark told the House of Commons that ministers are “hopeful” they will be able to accept an amendment tabled by Labour’s John Mann, Caroline Flint, Gareth Snell and Lisa Nandy.
Their amendment attempts to protect workers’ rights and environmental standards in a future UK-EU trade relationship.
The reaching out to Labour backbenchers who could be persuaded to back the Brexit deal came despite Environment Secretary Michael Gove having earlier branded Labour’s Brexit policy as “b******s”.
In Wakefield, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn used a speech to repeat his demand for a general election should the prime minister’s Brexit deal be rejected by MPs next Tuesday.
He also admitted delaying Brexit and extending Article 50 could be a “possibility” should a potential incoming Labour government need time to renegotiate an agreement with Brussels.
However, a Sky Data poll revealed voters are cool on Mr Corbyn’s demand, with 45% opposed to a general election if Mrs May’s deal is defeated and 37% in favour.
In addition to wooing Labour MPs, there were small signs Mrs May’s efforts to win over sceptical Tories are paying off.
Both Mid Norfolk MP George Freeman and Copeland MP Trudy Harrison reversed their opposition to the prime minister’s deal to now declare they will be voting in support of her agreement.
During her news conference with Mr Abe, Mrs May commented publicly for the first time on a furious House of Commons row involving Speaker John Bercow.
The prime minister said she was “surprised” by his decision to allow a vote on a Tory Remainer effort to shorten the time she has to reveal her Brexit plan B, should her deal be rejected.
The government played down talk that a Commons debate on Mrs May’s plan B, should she be forced to provide one, would be limited and MPs restricted in putting forward alternatives.
In such a scenario, MPs will likely seek to hold a series of votes on issues such as a Norway-style EU relationship, extending Article 50 or even a second EU referendum.