Attempting to explain Brexit in 90 seconds might remind you of a Monty Python sketch, but this is what Jeremy Hunt attempted in front of a class of Japanese high school students on Monday. The foreign secretary gave a carefully worded summary of the Brexit situation using the graded language of the English language teacher he used to be. It’s not clear whether the students were any the wiser after he spoke, but the real aim of the lesson was achieved: to generate positive headlines for the Foreign Secretary on his latest visit to Japan.
Hunt has some advantages. He lived in Japan in his early 20s, mastered the language and developed an enduring affection for the country, even once making the Freudian slip of referring to his wife as Japanese (she’s Chinese). Before politics beckoned, he made several attempts to exploit his experience with various business projects that included a scheme to import British marmalade here.
As Foreign Secretary he has mainly succeeding in retaining close relations with Japan. This is his second trip to Tokyo in eight months. Theresa May was here for a flying visit in 2017, and in return Japanese PM Shinzo Abe has made two recent visits to the UK, meeting Theresa May a total of seven times in three years. Behind the scenes meetings have reportedly been intense.
Hunt’s latest mission seems to be to offer further ‘reassurances’ that the consequences of Brexit will not be catastrophic. The government doesn’t want ‘no deal’ Hunt was quoted as saying, without explicitly ruling out the possibility. It is unclear how reassured Shinzo Abe was.
The Japanese premier went on record with his concerns about Brexit early on. Even before the referendum he was warning David Cameron that a Leave vote would make the UK a less attractive destination for investment – a typically indirect coded warning.