A GOVERNMENT minister has played down fears that Brexit could destroy jobs across Southampton if no trade deal with the European Union is agreed.

International trade minister Conor Burns, a former Southampton councillor, has said there are “huge opportunities” for more companies to export as Britain prepares to leave the EU.

But he also called for a “dialling down” of the current dispute with the US, whose treasury secretary is threatening to slap tariffs on British cars if the UK goes ahead with a tax on the American digital giants.

The UK officially leaves the European Union this Friday, but business with Europe will continue as normal until the end of this year while talks go on over trade agreements.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn visited Southampton last autumn and warned there was a “huge threat to jobs all across Southampton” if Britain left the EU without a deal.

But Mr Burns said: “We are determined to try and get a deal and, crucially, so is the EU.”

He says this was clear in the political declaration that accompanied the EU withdrawal agreement.

“We’re optimistic that we can get that deal. There is plenty of time now to make ourselves prepared for the event that a deal is not forthcoming, a good 11 months,” he added.

He said talks with the US, Australia and New Zealand were going on at the same time as negotiations with the U and there would be talks with a “further tranche of countries” and work on access to other markets.

“We are trying to make the trading opportunities for UK companies even greater, which we should be doing anyway because France and Germany export a lot more than we do from an even deeper point of integration with the EU,” he said.

On the prospect of a trade war with the US hitting the UK car industry – which exports many vehicles through Southampton – he said: “We’ve got to dial this down.We believe that a tariff war is in nobody’s interests at all. We’ve got to de-escalate this.”

He said the government would shortly be publishing a negotiating mandate for a free trade deal with the US.

“It’s very much the view of the government that we should be dialling this down, we should be talking about this, we should be finding a way to reduce or eliminate tariffs, not getting into the business of a tariff war. That’s in nobody’s interest whatsoever, not least British car manufacturers or those who work in that sector,” he added.

Mr Burns said ministers had been told by Boris Johnson “to get out there with our message that January 31 represents an opportunity for the UK”.

He added: “There are huge opportunities out there, there’s real interest in Britain again and there’s huge support through the Department for International Trade for small and medium sized companies to show them how easy it is, frankly, to export and to support them if they wish to embark on an export journey.”