Belfast Telegraph

Crisis at Bombardier: Prime Minister urged to talk tough


By John Mulgrew

Prime Minister Theresa May is under pressure to stand up to US President Donald Trump to ensure thousands of Northern Ireland jobs at Bombardier are not lost.

And the UK government has also warned that its relationship with US rival Boeing "could be jeopardised" after the firm's complaint again Bombardier resulted in a massive 220% tariff on its Belfast-made C Series planes being sold to the US.

Mrs May says the government will continue to work to protect more than 4,000 workers at Bombardier's plants here, who face an uncertain future after a ruling from the Trump administration's Department of Commerce.

Up to 1,000 Bombardier staff in Northern Ireland work on the wings and fuselage of the C Series passenger planes.

During a trip to manufacturing stalwart Harland and Wolff yesterday, Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon warned that the "behaviour" by Boeing "could jeopardise our future relationship".

"Boeing stands to gain a lot from British defence spending, we have contracts in place for new maritime patrol aircraft and Apache attack helicopters and they will also be bidding for other defence projects," he said.

"This kind of behaviour could clearly jeopardise our future relationship."

Mrs May has already directly lobbied US President Donald Trump over the dispute.

And while Bombardier branded the decision "absurd", unions have accused Mrs May of being "asleep at the wheel".

Yesterday, Mrs May spoke to Arlene Foster and Michelle O'Neill in separate phone calls.

A Downing Street spokesperson said Mrs May expressed concern about the implications the ruling could have for jobs and livelihoods and the wider economy in Northern Ireland.

"On UK government support, the Prime Minister said ministers across government - including Greg Clark and James Brokenshire - were continuing to engage intensively with Boeing, Bombardier, the Canadian Government, the US administration and others on this important issue," the spokesperson said.

"They also discussed how while this was a preliminary judgment, it was an uncertain and worrying time for the workers and their families at the Bombardier facility and how the UK government wanted to see a credible solution reached as quickly as possible."

Ulster Unionist Lord Empey blasted Boeing's "bully boy tactics".

"What I see the core of this dispute being, given that Boeing did not even tender for the Delta Airlines contract, is an attempt by Boeing - in Europe, Airbus - to suffocate Bombardier. It is bully boy tactics.

"The manufacturing of the C Series sees a dramatic increase in efficiency and a reduction in fuel consumption that would mean when oil prices rise, the plane becomes much more significant."

And Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn also criticised the UK's so-called 'special relationship' with the US, over the Bombardier dispute. He warned that "thousands of jobs are now at stake".

Bombardier said it "strongly disagrees" with the preliminary decision, and says "the magnitude of the proposed duty is absurd and divorced from the reality about the financing of multi-billion-dollar aircraft programs".

A second ruling is due to follow next month, over alleged 'dumping' of the aircraft, which involves selling the planes at a cut-price.

A final decision in the US isn't likely to come until next year, around May or June. But Bombardier will also have the chance to appeal the decision further up the food chain still, to the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

DUP leader Arlene Foster said it is a "very disappointing determination, but it is not the end of the process and there are further steps that will follow".

Alliance East Belfast MLA Chris Lyttle said it is important to remember that the "astounding ruling" is preliminary, and not the final decision.

"This ruling could have severe implications not only for jobs in NI but for international trade with the US, particularly in the aerospace sector," he said.

Sinn Fein leader Michelle O'Neill said the ruling is a "blow to the many families and workers who face a very uncertain future and difficult times ahead".

She added: "I have written to the US Vice President and also briefed the chairman of the US Congressional Friends of Ireland committee, Richie Neal, on the damage this dispute will have on thousands of families across the north."

Number of Bombardier staff in NI who work on the wings and fuselage of the C Series passenger planes

Belfast Telegraph

Weekly Business Digest Newsletter

This week's business news headlines, directly to your inbox every Tuesday.