Japan’s minister for public diplomacy and media, Shinichi Iida, said his country is more interested in sealing a trade deal with the European Union than one with post-Brexit Britain.

Speaking at the Japanese embassy in London, he said: “Frankly, our first and foremost priority at the moment is the early effectuation of the Japan-EU economic partnership agreement.

“Having said that though, once the Japan-EU economic partnership agreement comes into force, it could provide a very good and sound basis for the future trade between Japan and UK.”

As reported by The Independent, Japan has been outspoken in its concerns over Brexit, with its ambassador warning British Prime Minister Theresa May that its firms could leave Britain if a chaotic exit makes it “unprofitable” for them to remain.

There are more than 1,000 Japanese companies operating in Britain, employing 160,000 workers in areas such as Sunderland. The list includes car giants Nissan, Honda, Toyota and Mitsubishi.

In an interview with The Independent, Iida said Japanese businesses were “concerned” about Britain’s plans to leave the bloc, after setting up shop in Britain partly to secure access to the European single market.

The minister also stressed that one of the major voices of concern from the Japanese businesses is the legal status of the EU citizens.

Japan would prefer the UK to remain in the single market and the customs union, but it has accepted the prime minister’s assertion that both options are no longer part of Britain’s longterm future, he said.

“We originally wanted the UK to be part of the single market and also we indicated the possibility that UK might be able to stay in the customs union but Prime Minister [Theresa] May was very clear that Brexit means the departure from the single market and also the departure from the customs union,” said Iida.

“She has been consistent in that regard in the Florence speech [given in September 2017] and she has been consistent in that regard in the Mansion House speech [given last month] and that type of consistency is very important.”

Asked if Britain could change its mind on the single market, he said: “Negotiation with the EU is extremely tough. We so well know how hard a negotiator the EU is.”