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UK foreign minister asks Toyota to stay after Honda opts to leave

Automaker apparently declined to give definite answer in fear of no-deal Brexit

British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, left, met with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Tokyo on April 15. He also talked with a Toyota Motor executive to offer reassurances over Brexit.   © Reuters

LONDON -- British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt has asked Toyota Motor to remain in the U.K. even as the Japanese automaker considers following compatriot Honda Motor out of the country amid concerns over a no-deal Brexit, Nikkei has learned.

Hunt met with Toyota Vice Chairman Shigeru Hayakawa in Japan on Monday at London's request, according to the company. The foreign secretary said the government is working to avoid the "no-deal" scenario for the U.K.'s departure from the European Union.

But it remains unclear whether the U.K. will secure a deal. A disorderly Brexit would make it difficult for Toyota to maintain production in Britain due to the tariffs that would be imposed.

Toyota produces nearly 130,000 cars yearly in the U.K., roughly 90% of which are exported to the bloc. If there is no deal, the automaker plans to shut those plants temporarily and possibly withdraw all production starting in 2023.

Hayakawa apparently refrained from giving Hunt an answer because of such uncertainty. "This meeting was not about deciding a course of action," a Toyota official said.

The British government is on alert since employment will take a hit should Japanese automakers follow in Honda's footsteps. Honda confirmed its plans to leave the U.K. in February.

Hunt said in a BBC interview Monday that continuing "paralysis" over Brexit would be "highly damaging" to the U.K.'s international standing.

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