No 10 plays down US threat to steel tariff talks over Northern Ireland Protocol fears

Downing Street has sought to play down reports that the US is delaying a deal to remove tariffs on UK steel and aluminium because of concerns over the Northern Ireland Protocol.

By The Newsroom
Thursday, 2nd December 2021, 7:48 pm
Updated Thursday, 2nd December 2021, 10:19 pm
Trade Minister Penny Mordaunt: Photo: Ian Nicholson/PA Wire
Trade Minister Penny Mordaunt: Photo: Ian Nicholson/PA Wire

The Financial Times has reported that Washington is concerned the UK’s threat to trigger Article 16, suspending part of the Brexit withdrawal agreement, could threaten the peace process.

The newspaper said that it had seen a communication in which a US commerce official said the talks on easing tariffs could not go ahead due to those concerns.

However, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman insisted the tariff talks were not linked to the UK’s ongoing dispute with the EU over the implementation of the protocol.

“It is important not to conflate those two issues. They are two separate points,” the spokesman said.

“On the steel tariffs, we are working quite closely with the Biden administration. It is encouraging that they are taking steps to de-escalate the issue and we are very focused on a agreeing a resolution that removes damaging tariffs, which will benefit businesses on both sides of the Atlantic.

“On the protocol, the US shares our deep commitment to the Belfast agreement and the peace process.

“The actions that we are taking are to protect the Good Friday Agreement and Northern Ireland’s place in the UK single market.”

In the Commons, Trade Minister Penny Mordaunt said the International Trade Secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan would be discussing the tariffs issue with her US counterparts next week.

“These are two entirely separate issues,” Ms Mordaunt said. “We don’t do ourselves any favours if we perpetuate these false narratives.”

The 25% tariff on steel and 10% tariff on aluminium were originally imposed by the Trump administration in a dispute with the EU.

However, while Brussels and Washington reached an agreement in October to suspend the tariffs, British steel and aluminium exporters are still subject to the levies.

Retaliatory UK duties on US bourbon whiskey and other products also remain in place.

International trade minister Ranil Jayawardena said yesterday: “The truth is America’s unjustified tariffs on steel and aluminium and derivatives imports from the UK are unfair and unnecessary.”

International Trade Secretary Ms Trevelyan told MPs a “good deal” with the US is “better than a quick deal”, adding: “We are here when the US are ready to continue those discussions.”

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