UK rejects US link between steel tariffs and Northern Ireland trade rules


British ministers dismissed Washington’s link between the lifting of metal tariffs and a dispute over post-Brexit trade rules in Northern Ireland, describing it as a “false story”.

The Financial Times reported on Wednesday that the United States is delaying a deal to remove Trump-era tariffs on steel and aluminum over fears that Boris Johnson, the British Prime Minister, is preparing to suspend unilaterally parts of the UK-EU trade agreement. The United States agreed to lift tariffs on EU steel and aluminum in October.

UK Trade Minister Penny Mordaunt told the House of Commons on Thursday that the Johnson government does not accept such a link. “It may be true in terms of how some people in the United States feel, but it’s a false story. These are two entirely separate issues, ”she said.

Johnson’s spokesman added he was “unaware” that the US administration had linked the two issues. “We are working closely with the Biden administration,” he said, adding that Washington was seeking to “defuse the problem”.

Anne-Marie Trevelyan, British Secretary for International Trade, will travel to the United States on Monday for a three-day visit to New York and Washington. A Whitehall official confirmed that tariffs will be “one of the issues she will raise” in meetings, including with Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo.

Trevelyan told MPs she was still hopeful of reaching a broad UK-US trade pact. “We have always been clear that a good deal is better than a quick deal and we are here when the United States is ready to continue these discussions.”

British steelmakers have warned that if there is no deal on Trump-era tariffs in a few days, they will lose further sales to EU producers as their tariffs are lifted on January 1 . UK Steel said in a statement.

“Since these tariffs came into effect, our exports to the United States have increased from 350,000 tonnes in 2018 to 200,000 tonnes in 2020,” he said. “While many of our US customers are supportive of us, it is imperative that all parties work together to reach an agreement that provides the UK with the same duty-free quotas that the EU has already achieved.”

Johnson is facing pressure from Washington, Brussels and Paris not to trigger Article 16, the safeguard clause of the Northern Ireland Protocol which cancels part of the UK’s exit from the EU. British ministers have suggested that this is now unlikely to happen before Christmas.

Democratic lawmakers in Washington have publicly warned that by threatening to trigger Article 16, Britain could destabilize trade relations and “a hard-won peace.”

The British Prime Minister argues that the protocol must be amended to safeguard the peace process. Trade unionists complain that increased border controls on trade from Britain to Northern Ireland have put a strain on the union.

Emmanuel Macron, President of France, said this week that the NI protocol was “an existential issue” for the EU and was a question of “war and peace for Ireland”.

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Downing Street responded on Thursday: “As far as protocol is concerned, it is essential that we use measured and appropriate language given the sensitivities involved.”

Negotiations between UK Brexit Minister Lord David Frost and Brexit Commissioner Maros Sefcovic will continue on Friday. The Commission said that despite the lack of progress over the past six weeks, it would continue to speak.

“We continue to work intensively with the UK to find common solutions to address the practical issues people face in Northern Ireland. We work 24 hours a day, ”said a spokesperson for the commission. “I am not going to create new deadlines.”

Many EU member states remain ready for Frost to trigger Article 16 after Christmas. “We will come back to the threats in January. I don’t think American pressure will make a difference, ”said an EU diplomat.

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