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Anne-Marie Trevelyan, the trade secretary, urged her counterpart in Washington to jump on a plane after the US refused to strike a deal because of its fears about threats to the Northern Ireland Protocol.
But Gina Raimondo, the US commerce secretary, has now told the Department for International Trade (DIT), that she is too busy to travel to the UK at present.
“While Secretary Raimondo appreciates the kind invitation, she’s not in a position to travel to London in-person at this time,” a spokesperson told the Politico website.
The snub is a major embarrassment for the government because the EU and UK reached an agreement in October to suspend the tariffs – yet British exporters are still forced to pay the levies.
The 25 per cent tariff on steel and 10 per cent tariff on aluminium were originally imposed by Donald Trump’s administration in a dispute with the EU.
Labour accused the prime minister of being “distracted with making excuses about the shocking Downing Street parties”, rather than the plight of steelmakers.
“This is bitterly disappointing news for the UK’s steel and aluminium manufacturers and for the many jobs, livelihoods, and businesses who rely on this industry,” said Nick Thomas-Symonds, the shadow trade secretary.
“Labour has been calling for the prime minister to personally intervene with the US president and show the leadership this issue requires.”
A DIT source said Ms Trevelyan hoped to revive the discussions remotely, but there is no date for any talks to take place.
Last month, a communication sent by a US commerce official revealed the steel talks are on hold because of government threat to tear up the post-Brexit Protocol.
The DIT source said: “Given the current uncertainty around the Omicron variant, it is understandable that foreign ministers are not able to commit to international travel for in-person meetings.
“The trade secretary extended a clear and positive invite to Secretary Raimondo to begin discussions to resolve the steel tariff issue in January, including through virtual means.
“We maintain the urgent need to make progress on this issue to lift the prospect of further retaliatory tariffs on US goods and look forward to virtual discussions with the US in view of the global pandemic.”
No 10 has said it is wrong to “conflate” steel tariffs with British threats to suspend Article 16 of the Brexit deal for Northern Ireland.