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Theresa May Is Left Red-Faced by Job-Threatening U.S. Bombardier Tariff Decision

A big selling point of Brexit was that it would allow the United Kingdom to strike its own tariff-free trade deals with “like-minded” partners around the world, instead of being stuck with the European Union’s collective approach. The U.S. in particular was supposed to provide a big win, with president Donald Trump recently claiming to be “working on a major trade deal” with the country that would benefit jobs.

However, that chumminess is looking very shaky after the U.S. announced an preliminary tariff of almost 220% on sales of Bombardier’s CSeries commercial jets to Delta Air Lines. The duties are supposed to counteract Canadian subsidies to Bombardier, which is based in Montréal, but the aerospace company is also the biggest industrial employer in Northern Ireland, which is part of the U.K.

Indeed, around 4,500 people work at Bombardier’s Belfast facilities, with 1,000 making parts for the CSeries line. For Prime Minister Theresa May, who needs to demonstrate the potential of the U.K.’s independent trade ties as Brexit talks continue messily, the timing of the U.S. move is not great.

“Bitterly disappointed by initial Bombardier ruling,” May said on Twitter. “The government will continue to work with the company to protect vital jobs for Northern Ireland.”

The U.S. Department of Commerce proposed the tariffs in a preliminary ruling on Tuesday. The case was brought about by U.S.-based Boeing, which is furious that Delta went with Bombardier. Boeing claims Bombardier essentially dumped its wares in the U.S. below cost, thanks to Canadian subsidies.

However, the tariffs won’t come into effect until the U.S. International Trade Commission makes a final ruling in Boeing’s favor. A final decision is expected next year.