American tariffs on British steel are not linked to the renegotiation of the Northern Ireland Protocol, a minister has said.
Trade minister Penny Mordaunt told the Commons that the link was a “false narrative”.
Her comments came after reports the US is delaying talks to remove steel and aluminium tariffs put in place by Donald Trump because of concerns over how the UK is handling negotiations with the EU over trade in Northern Ireland.
The SNP asked if the Government was happy with “America keeping control” while Labour accused chief negotiator Lord Frost of “bungling” the talks over changes to the Northern Ireland Protocol.
SNP MP Angus Brendan MacNeil (Na h-Eileanan an Iar) asked the Government if it welcomed “America keeping control” after a report in the Financial Times said “as far as a trade deal America wouldn’t lift the steel tariffs if the UK violates Article 16”.
Trade minister Penny Mordaunt said that story “might be true in terms of how some people in the United States feel but it is a false narrative”.
She added: “These are two entirely separate issues. The Secretary of State (Anne-Marie Trevelyan) will be discussing the issue of steel and other matters next week with her opposite numbers in the United States. But we don’t do ourselves any favours if we perpetuate these false narratives.
“They are entirely separate issues and, again, I would encourage he and his party to start talking about what the UK has done to protect peace on the island of Ireland, our reasonable request to the EU and he might like to also talk to his American friends about what the EU has done to disrupt that, including triggering Article 16 on the most sensitive of goods: vaccines.”
Labour shadow trade minister Gareth Thomas told the Commons: “Free trade negotiations with the US are vital to lifting Donald Trump’s tariffs on British steel and aluminium exports, which in turn are crucial to protecting jobs and businesses in communities across our country.
“Given that the US has already agreed to lift tariffs on many EU steel products, if we are to get a level playing field for our firms and our workers, might it not be time for Lord Frost to be given a little help to stop bungling discussions with the EU so this vital US-UK trade deal can be sorted?”
International trade minister Ranil Jayawardena replied: “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.”
The protocol is designed to prevent a hard border with the Republic of Ireland but means that goods coming to Northern Ireland from the mainland UK need to undergo checks.
Joe Biden’s administration in Washington has warned that peace on the island of Ireland must not be endangered by changes to UK-EU trading arrangements.