Boeing’s dispute with a rival aerospace firm that threatens thousands of jobs in Northern Ireland is “unjustified” and “damaging”, the British Government has said.
The US has hit Canadian firm Bombardier with a punitive import duty of nearly 220% on a new model of passenger jet, the wings for which are made in Northern Ireland.
More than 4,000 people are employed in Belfast by Bombardier, with the firm’s presence contributing an estimated £400m to the Northern Ireland economy.
One union described the ruling as a “hammer blow”, while Prime Minister Theresa May said she was “bitterly disappointed”.
The dispute between the two rival companies centres around claims from Boeing that Bombardier received unfair state subsidies from the UK and Canada, allowing them to sell airliners at below cost prices in the US.
Announcing the US Department of Commerce’s initial finding coming down on the side of Boeing, Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross said the subsidisation of goods by foreign governments was something the Trump administration “takes very seriously”.
A Government spokeswoman said the initial finding was “disappointing”, but stressed it was “only the first step in the process”.
“As the Prime Minister said last week, we will continue to strongly defend UK interests in support of Bombardier at the very highest level because an adverse outcome risks jobs and livelihoods among the 4,200 skilled workers in Belfast,” she said.
“Boeing’s position in this case is unjustified and frankly not what we would expect of a long-term partner to the UK – as well as damaging the wider global aerospace industry.”
Mrs May has lobbied US President Donald Trump over the dispute and raised it in talks with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on a visit there last week.
Bombardier labelled the decision “absurd” and said Boeing was guilty of hypocrisy.
In a statement reacting to the ruling, Boeing said the row “had nothing to do with limiting innovation or competition” but was about “maintaining a level playing field and ensuring that aerospace companies abide by trade agreements”.
Unions accused Theresa May of being “asleep at the wheel” on the dispute, saying the preliminary finding was “unlikely” to be overturned by Mr Trump.
Ross Murdoch, the GMB union’s national officer, said it was a “hammer blow” to Belfast and could have wider ramifications.
“Theresa May has been asleep at the wheel when she could and should have been fighting to protect these workers. It’s high time she woke up,” he said.
On top of the 4,000 people directly employed at Bombardier’s plant, Mr Murdoch warned another 9,400 supply chain jobs could be wiped out.
DUP leader Arlene Foster – whose 10 MPs are propping up Mrs May’s minority government – pressed the PM to raise the issue with Mr Trump when the pair met in New York earlier this month.
She said the DoC’s determination was “very disappointing”.