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Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson demands UK is exempt from steep new US steel tariffs

He told The Sun he was convinced there was a way of “reaching an understanding”.

The Tory big hitter hopes to call US counterpart James ‘Mad Dog’ Mattis to personally lobby for “carve out” for UK steelmakers this weekend.

It came as Government insiders said they would be pushing for a “company by company” exemption – to try and get round strict EU customs rules.

Donald Trump stunned world leaders by pushing ahead with plans to slap a 25 per cent import ‘tax’ on steel – and 10 per cent on aluminium – sparking fears of a global trade war.

He exempted Mexico and Canada and hinted that US allies such as NATO members would also be spared if the tariffs hit national security.

Under current EU rules Britain would unlikely be able to secure a country-wide exemption without the White House granting one to the whole of the EU.

The UK exports 350,000 tonnes of steel to the US – seven per cent of its total exports.

News of the tariffs broke on Thursday night – with Donald Trump signing a declaration in a White House ceremony attended by American workers.

The tariffs are due to take effect in two weeks’ time.

Speaking to the Sun, Mr Williamson said: “We have a very close collaborative working relationship with the United States. We work side by side not just in industry but also our Armed Forces.

“I hope there’s ways of reaching an understanding between our two countries.”

Trade Secretary Liam Fox is expected to fly to Washington DC next week to personally lobby for an exemption. He said it would be “absurd” for the UK to be hit.

Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson spoke to US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Wednesday morning – arguing that neither the UK nor the EU were responsible for over-capacity problem blighting the steel sector.

The US President’s action is seen as tackling China – which has been accused by the West of “dumping” cut price steel in the US and Europe.

The EU on Friday said EU companies were “not a source of unfair trade”. And German Chancellor Angela Merkel called for an exemption for the entire bloc.

China warned it was “firmly opposed” to Donald Trump’s plans and dubbed them a “serious attack on normal international trade order”.

Speaking before President Trump signed the executive order on Thursday, China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi said: “The outcome will only be harmful.

"China would have to make a justified and necessary response.”

UK Steel warned the US action would only see cheaper steel diverted to other markets from America – worsening the situation in Britain.

Grace Steel, UK Steel director, said: “Such tariffs would have a profound and detrimental impact on the UK steel sector, which exported some 350,000 tonnes of products to the US in 2017, over seven per cent of its total exports.

“The UK sector is in the midst of a fragile recovery following years of considerable turmoil, it would be utterly devastating if this were to be undermined.

“Imposing such measures on US allies in the name of national security is difficult to comprehend.

“It is clear the underlying motivation is instead one of economic protectionism for US producers, in response to a global issue of overcapacity in the steel sector.”

Roy Rickhuss, General Secretary of Community, the steelworkers’ union said: “Thousands of people have supported Community and UK Steel’s campaign in the past few days.

It is now more important than ever that Theresa May and Liam Fox use every bit of influence they have left in America to protect the jobs of British steelworkers.

“The steel crisis cost our industry thousands of jobs and the last thing we need now is a global trade war.”

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