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Liam Fox says EU to coordinate UK response to Trump tariffs

Hannah Boland
Liam Fox added that 'close co-operation between the UK and the US' was vital to international peace - Bloomberg

Trade Secretary Liam Fox said the European Commission will be directing the UK's response to Trump's steel tariffs, clarifying comments made last week which suggested the Government was seeking a separate exemption.

Speaking in Parliament today, Mr Fox said: "Our current membership of the European Union means that the European Commission will be coordinating the European response."

He said he would be making "the case for the UK as part of the EU" during his visit to Washington this week, where he is meeting Robert Lighthizer, the US trade representative, to discuss Mr Trump's tariffs – of 25pc on steel and 10pc on aluminium. 

It comes after the EU hit back at suggestions last week that the UK was looking for its own exemption from the tariffs, which are due to come into force in just under a fortnight.

Mr Fox had said he would be looking to see "how we can maximise the UK's case for exemption under these particular circumstances". 

Theresa May's spokesman, Max Blan, further stoked speculation after telling reporters on Friday that it "would be a matter for the US to decide on exemptions".

In response, Jyrki Katainen, the European Commission's vice president for jobs, growth, investment and competitiveness, had said: "We cannot accept that the EU is divided into different categories.

"We don’t want to see the division between the member states or their companies on this issue."

Under EU rules, the European Commission conducts trade policy for the 28 member bloc, though the UK will be leaving that bloc in just over a year. 

Mr Fox on Monday said the UK would be working with the European Commission to formulate a "measured and proportionate" response, which could include duties on the US, putting in place safeguard measures to protect the European market from a wave of imports due to the tariffs and taking the dispute to the World Trade Organisation.

He did, however, stress that the "close co-operation between the UK and the US" was vital to international peace and security,  given the strong defence and security co-operation relationship between the two.

He said that, alongside its work with its European partners: “The Department for Business Energy and Industrial Strategy will be assisting UK industry working with US customers to build their cases for exemptions."

UK Steel's director Gareth Stace said: “The steel sector will be thankful to hear the Government publicly confirm it supports a measured response from the EU in the face of these tariffs and to effectively protect the interests of steel companies against an anticipated flood of steel looking for a new home, after barriers go up around US borders."