Liam Fox has condemned Donald Trump’s steel and aluminium tariffs as “patently absurd” but has insisted the President’s “protectionism” and apparent disregard for the UK economy will not affect a post-Brexit trade deal.
Speaking to Sky News, the International Trade Secretary said he would not rule out retaliatory counter measures as “you cannot look at every global issue through the prism of Brexit”.
He said: “It’s very disappointing that the United States has chosen to apply steel and aluminium tariffs to countries across the European Union, allies of the United States, and all in the name of national security.
“And, in the case of the United Kingdom, where we send steel to the United States that is vital for their businesses and their defence industry, it is patently absurd.”
Fox, one of the leading voices in support of Brexit, said the “mechanism chosen by the US is utterly inappropriate and using national security pretext for what is actually protectionism”.
When asked how a tariff war would affect a US-UK trade deal, Fox said: “The US administration has made clear gains this week that they are very keen to see an agreement with the UK but regard steel imports as an EU issue.”
And despite failing to convince Trump not to impose steel tariffs, Fox still hopes to convince them that “this is not the right mechanism to deal with” Brexit.
Trump was accused of firing the starting pistol on an international trade war, as the US administration slapped swingeing new tariffs on EU steel imports.
The 25% levy on steel, along with a 10% tariff on aluminium, will come into effect on Friday with the expiry of an exemption first granted to the EU, Mexico and Canada by Trump in March.
European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker denounced the move as “protectionism pure and simple”, while a UK Government spokesman described it as “deeply disappointing”.
The CBI warned the move would “damage prosperity on both sides of the Atlantic”. Industry body UK Steel said that, with exports to America worth half a billion dollars a year, producers in Britain would be “hit hard”.