Northern Ireland

Bombardier job fears: British government 'has not done enough'

Bombardier workers hold a rally at the east Belfast plant about possible job losses. Picture by Mal McCann
Bombardier workers hold a rally at the east Belfast plant about possible job losses. Picture by Mal McCann

THE British government has been accused of not doing enough to fight for jobs at aircraft maker Bombardier in Belfast.

The Canadian company faces US tariffs of 292% on its passenger jets amid a trade dispute with American rival Boeing.

If the levy is imposed, thousands of jobs could be lost at the firm's plant in east Belfast.

The British government only submitted a four-page legal argument to the US commission responsible for ruling on the tariffs, a BBC Spotlight programme revealed last night.

However, a submission by the Canadian government was more than 170 pages long.

The US Department of Commerce ruled last month that Bombardier had received unfair subsidies from the UK and Canada to help build its C-Series aircraft, whose wings are built at Bombardier's Belfast plant.

The International Trade Commission (ITC) is due to rule on Friday if Boeing has been harmed by the subsidies.

As part of correspondence with the US authorities, the British government said it did not consider itself a "legally proper party" to the trade dispute.

DUP East Belfast MP Gavin Robinson, whose party is helping to prop up the Conservative government, appeared not to be aware of the legal argument.

"I would be very interested if you've got that information, please share it with me," he told Spotlight presenter Jim Fitzpatrick.

The programme also revealed that British government lawyers replied late to some questions put to them by the US Department of Commerce.

In one letter, an official blamed the 'Twelfth fortnight' for the delay, adding that "the employees in the government offices in Northern Ireland responsible for gathering documents and providing information in response to the department's questionnaire will be out of the office for the remainder of this week".

Shadow Secretary of State Owen Smith claimed the government had "been more concerned with the optics of looking to be doing a good job, defending jobs here in Belfast, rather than doing so".

The programme also spoke to former ITC Commissioner Prof Jennifer Hillman, who suggested the British government "has not come in full force, certainly not at the International Trade Commission".

However, Business Secretary Greg Clark rejected the claim and said his government had "worked vigorously".

"Personally, I have never seen such a high level, consistent level of engagement," he said.

Jackie Pollock, Ireland Secretary for the Unite union, called last night on Prime Minister Theresa May to fly to Washington to address the issue directly with President Donald Trump.

“In the light of these revelations the Bombardier workforce will be left feeling angered and betrayed by the conduct of the UK government. We have to ask where is the ‘confidence and supply’ for the workforce,” he said.