Japan seeks closer ties with Ireland after Brexit

Foreign minister cites concerns about future of Japanese firms in UK

Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan: said the visit by the Japanese foreign minister and the programme of events would “celebrate our strong friendship based on shared values”. Photograph: Eric Luke

Japan sees Ireland as an important ally as it seeks to safeguard the interests of its companies in the UK and the European Union following Brexit, the country's foreign minister has said. After a meeting with Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan in Dublin on Monday, Fumio Kishida said the UK's decision to leave the EU was an event "that shook the world". Given the number of Japanese companies operating in the EU, Tokyo was "closely following" the process that would lead to British withdrawal.

“In order not only to ensure the smooth business operations of companies in both the UK and the EU, but also to enhance predictability of the UK’s withdrawal process from the EU, we wish to co-operate with Ireland, which shares a border and has very close economic ties with the UK,” Mr Kishida said.

The comments suggest Japan sees Dublin as a source of intelligence on Brexit but also as a potential destination for its companies. The Japanese government warned last year that Brexit could result in its country’s firms moving their European head offices out of Britain if EU laws ceased to apply there.

Japanese firms employ an estimated 140,000 workers in the UK, with car-makers Nissan and Toyota as well as manufacturing giant Hitachi all having major bases there. In a memorandum on Brexit last September, the foreign ministry in Tokyo urged the British government to retain maximum contact with the single market and ensure free movement of workers between the EU and the UK. Both demands are at odds with Tory MPs' demand for a "hard" Brexit, in which the UK agrees its own bilateral trade deals with non-European states.


Mr Kishida’s visit, the first to Ireland by a Japanese foreign minister in 25 years, was timed to coincide with the 60th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Ireland and Japan. He and Mr Flanagan agreed to work more closely on Brexit but also on tackling global issues such as disarmament, non-proliferation and peace-building.

“Over the last 60 years, Japan and Ireland have established a solid cooperative relationship based on shared fundamental values of freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law,” the Japanese minister said.

In advance of the opening ceremony of a programme of events to mark the 60-year anniversary, Mr Flanagan said it was an occasion to "celebrate our strong friendship based on shared values". He said Ireland looked forward to strengthening those connections in the coming years. The Japanese ambassador, Mari Miyoshi, and the Irish Ambassador to Japan, Anne Barrington, also attended the opening ceremony.

Bilateral trade between Ireland and Japan totalled €9.8 billion in 2015, and Japan is Ireland’s largest export market in the Asia-Pacific region. There are 79 Japanese companies in Ireland, supporting more than 4,000 jobs, and 50 Irish companies in Japan.

Mr Flanagan also launched a study of Irish-Japanese relations, commissioned by the department from the Dublin-based Institute for International and European Affairs.

Ruadhán Mac Cormaic

Ruadhán Mac Cormaic

Ruadhán Mac Cormaic is the Editor of The Irish Times