LONDON — Theresa May has been criticised for refusing to stand up to Donald Trump after she opted not to join the leaders of other western countries in speaking out against the President’s decision to impose hefty tariffs on exports to the US.
On Thursday, the Trump administration announced it was going ahead with plans to slap 25% and 10% tariffs on steel and aluminium from the EU, Canada and Mexico, in what is expected to escalate into a global trade war.
Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, described the move as „totally unacceptable,” and said it amounted to „an affront to the thousands of Canadians who have fought and died alongside their American brothers in arms.”
French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel both described the tariffs as „illegal,” while Jean-Claude Juncker, the European Commission President, said he was „lost” with Trump, describing his decision to impose hefty tariffs on EU exports as „totally unacceptable.”
However, May has so far resisted calls to join some of her closest allies in speaking out against Trump, instructing UK’s Trade Secretary, Liam Fox, to do it instead.
Fox — a Brexiteer who has led calls for Britain to prioritise a trade deal with the US after Britain has left the EU — described the tariffs as a „patently absurd” move, and said the UK government was considering counter-measures.
However, the Conservative minister also urged the European Union to be cautious in its response to Trump, saying: „It would be a great pity if we ended up in a tit-for-tat trade dispute with our closest allies.”
Juncker has said that the EU will hit back with tariffs of its own, telling reporters: „This is a bad day for the world trade. What they can do, we’re able to do exactly the same.”
Shadow Trade Secretary, Barry Gardiner, urged May to „act decisively” and stand up to Trump’s „bullying and intimidation” to protect British jobs. Around 34,000 people are employed by the steel industry in the UK.
„These are proportionate measures to show that we will not be cowed, we will not be bullied by the President,” Gardiner told the Today programme on Friday morning.
„The President has said he believes he could win a trade war. We think a trade war is in nobody’s interests. It’s not in our interests, it’s not in the EU’s interests, and it’s not in the interest of American workers.”
He added: „We believe in a rules-based system. President Trump doesn’t. We must understand that. He wants to break up the rules-based system.
„Theresa May has not managed to persuade Trump at all to abandon the plans he has had. The idea that we have a special relationship and we’re going to get a special deal with America once we’ve left the EU. It is a nonsense.”
Speaking to BI later on Friday morning, Gardiner said: „Holding hands with President Trump has not stopped him attacking our steelworkers’ jobs.
„We need a strong Prime Minister who will stand up to Trump and fight for British industries and British jobs.”