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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 24 June 2018

Theresa May slams 'unjustified' US steel tariffs as woes pile up

British PM steps up war of words with Trump as businesses call for Brexit clarity and crucial vote schedules

Theresa May faces challenges on many fronts, as a putative trade war with the US looms and she faces a challenge in Parliament from Brexit rebels within her own party. REUTERS/Toby Melville/File Photo
Theresa May faces challenges on many fronts, as a putative trade war with the US looms and she faces a challenge in Parliament from Brexit rebels within her own party. REUTERS/Toby Melville/File Photo

British prime minister Theresa May expressed her deep disappointment at “unjustified” US steel and aluminium tariffs in a phone call with President Donald Trump on Monday, her office said.

In a 30-minute call that Downing Street described as “constructive”, the two leaders agreed to discuss the issue further at the G7 summit in Canada this week.

“The prime minister raised the US decision to apply tariffs to EU steel and aluminium imports, which she said was unjustified and deeply disappointing,” her office said in a statement.

“The prime minister said the US, UK and EU are close national security allies, and we recognise the importance of the values of open and fair trade across the world.

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“The prime minister also underlined the need to safeguard jobs that would potentially be affected by the decision.

“They agreed to discuss this and wider issues of free and fair global trade further at the G7 summit later in the week.”

Britain and Washington are also at odds over the Iranian nuclear deal but both leaders agreed on working together “to counter Iran’s destabilising regional activity, including its support for the Houthis in Yemen”.

They ended the call by looking forward to Mr Trump’s trip to Britain next month, which is expected to be marked by major demonstrations.

Earlier in the day, British business leaders warned Mrs May that maintaining frictionless trade with the European Union after Brexit was probably more important than any tariff levels.

Mrs May and several top ministers met business chiefs including the leaders of pharmaceuticals company GlaxoSmithKline, supermarket Tesco, car maker Aston Martin, telecoms company BT and construction company Balfour Beatty to discuss Brexit.

“A frictionless border is probably even more important than the levy or tariff,” a source familiar with discussions during the meeting told Reuters when asked about what Mrs May had been told.

Mrs May’s government is divided over two alternatives regarding what customs arrangement to seek with the European Union after the end of a transitional period designed to ease Britain out of the bloc, which ends in 2020.

Business leaders were told a decision by ministers was “imminent”, the source said.

It was also announced on Monday that a parliamentary showdown with potential Brexit rebels in her own Conservative party will take place on June 12, when the legislation underpinning Britain’s exit from the European Union returns to the floor of the House of Commons for a crucial debate.

The unelected House of Lord has infuriated the government by making 15 changes to the exit legislation, despite ministers’ efforts to block them. Those changes include core Brexit issues, such as whether Britain should leave the EU’s single market and customs union.

The government will ask MPs in the directly-elected lower house to overturn some of those changes during a debate expected to run late into the night.