Lord Mandelson has called on international business to follow Japan and lobby to bring Britain “back from the brink” of a hardline Brexit break with the EU.
The comments from the Labour peer in an interview with the Financial Times come a week after Japan’s foreign ministry published a 15-page memo calling for the UK government and the EU to negotiate the softest possible exit deal that maintains almost all of Britain’s rights in the single market.
“Britain has got to be saved from Brexit hardliners who in their sabre-rattling are threatening to make a bad situation worse,” Lord Mandelson said. “I’m appealing to the international business community and foreign investors to help bring Britain back from the brink — to counter populist pressures and to pressure the British government for the sort of constructive European engagement and a deal that will best serve our economic interests.”
Lord Mandelson, a former EU Commissioner and UK Trade Secretary, was in Hong Kong as part of a three-stop tour including Vietnam and Singapore for Global Counsel, the consultancy he co-founded after leaving parliament, and which is advising the British Bankers' Association on its post-Brexit response.
He said his Asian tour had included “a mix of continuing goodwill and utter bewilderment — in equal measure” over Britain’s decision to leave the EU.
“People want to know that Britain has not self destructed or that the EU has fallen apart and neither of those things are going to happen. But to avoid lasting damage to Britain and the EU, they need to put in place a strong trading relationship,” he added.
The comments come as businesses and governments around the world are watching to see what sort of an exit deal the UK will propose — and increasingly calling on Whitehall to tread very carefully.
At her first G20 summit earlier this month, Theresa May, UK prime minister, was warned by Shinzo Abe, Japan’s prime minister, and US president Barack Obama to handle Brexit carefully or risk investment falling.
Mr Mandelson has longstanding links with China. He is president of the Great Britain-China Centre, a non-departmental public body that works closely with the Foreign Office, and recently, in a personal capacity, cautioned against the UK government rejecting the China-backed Hinkley Point nuclear project on security grounds.
He said in Hong Kong that the China-UK relationship had enjoyed a “golden period” under the previous UK government and that Britain should take care to maintain strong ties.
“Given the importance of China in the global economy and given the wall of investment falling from China on the rest of the world, we don’t want to jeopardise Britain’s ability to be a strong participant in China’s growing role and a recipient of Chinese capital,” he added.
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