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Downing Street downplays links between US steel tariffs and NI protocol concerns

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Downing Street has sought to play down reports that the US is delaying a deal to remove tariffs on UK steel and aluminium because of concerns over the Northern Ireland Protocol.

The Financial Times reported that Joe BIden’s government is concerned the UK’s threat to trigger Article 16, suspending part of the Brexit withdrawal agreement, could threaten the peace process.

The newspaper reported that it had seen a communication in which a US commerce official said the talks on easing tariffs could not go ahead due to those concerns.

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However, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman insisted the tariff talks were not linked to the UK’s ongoing dispute with the EU over the protocol.

“It is important not to conflate those two issues. They are two separate points,” the spokesman said.

“On the steel tariffs, we are working quite closely with the Biden administration. It is encouraging that they are taking steps to de-escalate the issue and we are very focused on a agreeing a resolution that removes damaging tariffs, which will benefit businesses on both sides of the Atlantic.

“On the protocol, the US shares our deep commitment to the Belfast agreement and the peace process.

“The actions that we are taking are to protect the Good Friday Agreement and Northern Ireland’s place in the UK single market.”

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In the Commons, Trade Minister Penny Mordaunt said the International Trade Secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan would be discussing the tariffs issue with her US counterparts next week.

“These are two entirely separate issues,” Ms Mordaunt said. “We don’t do ourselves any favours if we perpetuate these false narratives.”

The 25% tariff on steel and 10% tariff on aluminium were originally imposed by the Trump administration in a dispute with the EU.

However, while the EU and US reached an agreement in October to suspend the tariffs, British steel and aluminium exporters are still subject to the levies.

Retaliatory UK duties on US bourbon whiskey and other products also remain in place.

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