David Cameron pledged to “fly the flag” for British business as he arrived in Japan with delegates from the UK’s defence and nuclear industries on the first leg of a tour of South-East Asia.
Beginning a trip which will include an historic visit to Burma later in the week, the Prime Minister held talks in Tokyo with his Japanese counterpart Yoshihiko Noda and lobbied for British companies to be given access to the country’s previously closed defence market.
Mr Cameron also pushed the UK nuclear industry’s case to be given contracts to help with the clean-up after last year’s catastrophic earthquake.
There was an early success at the headquarters of Japanese car giant Nissan, which announced its Sunderland plant would be producing a new hatchback model from 2014. The two governments also signed a deal paving the way for Japan to invest billions of pounds into British infrastructure projects.
But a row broke out over why the British delegation was travelling in a plane chartered from Angola, rather than using a British aircraft.
Downing Street insisted that British Airways had been unable to provide a jet owing to the Easter holidays, and that other carriers such as BMI were also booked up.
Instead they opted to use operator Atlas – better known for moving cargo – who sourced a SonAir plane apparently owned by an oil company based in the African state.
The only patriotic marking visible on the craft was a Union Flag border around the door where Mr Cameron exited.
A source said: “We always approach British carriers first, but because we were travelling during a busy holiday season they were unable to provide an aircraft for a five-day trip. We decided to go with Atlas Air on the basis they could best match our requirements.”
But Labour expressed scepticism that no British carrier was available to transport the Prime Minister when requested.A Labour source said: “David Cameron’s commitment to flying the flag for British business is as shallow as his pre-election pledge to support the NHS.
“It is spin before substance from an out-of-touch premier.”
Mr Cameron continues his mission today by visiting Indonesia, where he will attempt to ensure the UK benefits from the rapid growth of the world’s most populous Muslim state.
He will then travel to Malaysia, Singapore, and finally Burma, where he will become the first Western leader to hold talks with Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi since she was elected to parliament earlier this month.