Theresa May's hopes of a post-Brexit trade deal with Trump in doubt as he launches European trade war

Matt Cardy / GettyTheresa May and Donald Trump
  • Theresa May warns Trump of her “deep concern” about the prospect of a US-Europe trade war.
  • Trump has threatened to impose large tariffs on European steel.
  • Industry groups have warned that the move would be “devastating” to trade.
  • The move is a blow to May’s plans for a post-Brexit free trade deal with the US.

LONDON – Theresa May’s plans for a quick post-Brexit trade deal with the US have been thrown into doubt after Trump announced plans to launch a trade war with Europe.

The president is reportedly planning to impose up to 25% tariffs on imported steel and 10% on aluminium in an attempt to save US industry.

“We are on the losing side of almost all trade deals,” Trump tweeted on Monday.

“Our friends and enemies have taken advantage of the U.S. for many years. Our Steel and Aluminium industries are dead. Sorry, it’s time for a change! MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!”

The move would be a huge blow to UK industry as well as to any prospect of a post-Brexit UK-US trade deal.

In a rare public sign of the UK government’s alarm at actions by the president, May told Trump in a phone call on Sunday of her “deep concern” about the move.

“The Prime Minister raised our deep concern at the President’s forthcoming announcement on steel and aluminium tariffs,” a spokesperson for the prime minister told Business Insider, adding that “multilateral action was the only way to resolve the problem of global overcapacity in all parties’ interests.”

May’s comments were reiterated by her deputy, David Lidington, who warned Washington against any move towards protectionism.

He told the BBC’s Sunday Politics that the US was “not taking an advisable course in threatening trade,” adding that “trade wars don’t do anybody any good”.

“We tried in Britain in the Sixties and Seventies protecting our car industry from competition. It actually didn’t work.”

Asked by Business Insider if the prime minister was still confident of negotiating a deal with Trump, a spokesman said that “I think both the prime minister and the president have been clear on the importance of reaching a post-Brexit bilateral trade deal. The US is our biggest trade partner. We invest over £500 billion in each others economies and over one million Americans work for UK companies, so you would expect us to remain close partners and continue to work at the highest levels to make the case for UK industry to the US government.”

Industry groups and unions have warned that Trump’s decision to launch a trade war would be “devastating” for European trade.

“US tariffs on UK steel would be devastating for the British steel industry and the thousands of workers who have battled for its survival,” Unite union national steel officer Tony Brady said.

“Government ministers and Theresa May must back Britain’s steelworkers and manufacturing communities by securing assurances from President Trump that they will not be caught up in a global tariff war between the US and countries such as China.”

Initial plans to exempt countries such as the UK from the tariffs appear to have been dropped by the White House.

The announcement would be a big blow to the prime minister, whose government has made a potential post-Brexit trade deal with Trump a major priority.

Trump has slammed free trade deals struck by his predecessor as “very stupid” and indicated that he will pursue an “America first” approach to his government.

Members of the US State Department have reportedly told MPs from the UK parliament’s Public Accounts Committee that any deal with the US would have to include lowering standards on agriculture, something already ruled out by the UK.

“It was a brutal reality check,” one of the MPs at the briefing told The Times.

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