May Too Hamstrung by Brexit to Stand Up to Trump, Corbyn Claims

(Bloomberg) -- Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the U.K.’s opposition Labour Party, will accuse Prime Minister Theresa May of failing to stand up to the U.S. over tariffs on steel and aluminum because she’s still hoping for a preferential trade deal after Brexit.

The duties, imposed by President Donald Trump, are wrong and “risk hurting workers in the United States and around the world,” Corbyn will say in a speech Tuesday to the GMB labor union congress in Brighton.

“Theresa May is appeasing Donald Trump in the hope of getting a race-to-the-bottom trade deal with the U.S. after we leave the European Union,” Corbyn will say, according to speech extracts released by his office. “The Trump trade tariffs show that’s a Tory pipe-dream,” he will say, adding that Britain’s “timid response shamefully fails to stand up to Trump.”

May told Trump in a phone call Monday that the tariffs are “unjustified and deeply disappointing,” her spokesman, James Slack, told reporters in London. The White House readout of the same 30 minute conversation only referred to the president raising “the need to rebalance trade with Europe” and didn’t mention steel or aluminum.

Trade Secretary Liam Fox, a longtime advocate for close ties between the U.S. and U.K., told lawmakers Monday that Trump’s tariffs are “legally dubious” and Britain is working with the rest of the EU to tailor its response. Officials will brief companies Tuesday on how to win product exemptions, he said.

“We remain committed to robustly defending and protecting the U.K. steel and aluminium industries and their employees,” Fox said, before adding that Britain’s best allies in the spat might be those whose jobs and businesses are affected on the other side of the Atlantic. “If we’re going to get a change in U.S. government policy, the most effective pressure will come from U.S. business and the U.S. Congress.,” he said.

Labour lawmaker John Mann called for a retaliatory attack on the president’s business interests in the U.K., where he owns two golf courses.

“Trump likes golf -- let’s bring in some tariffs on golf course owners in Scotland immediately and stand up for our steel communities and steelworkers,” he told lawmakers. “Instead of this rubbish about not being able to do anything about it, we should fight him.”

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.