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Britain turns up heat on Boeing, warns of fallout over Bombardier

Britain's Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Greg Clark said British officials have held a dozen meetings with Boeing executives and he has met with the company’s chief executive officer Dennis Muilenburg to urge him to withdraw the Bombardier complaint.

PHIL NOBLE/REUTERS

British Business Minister Greg Clark has given the strongest indication yet that Boeing Co.'s commercial and military contracts with the government are at risk because of the aerospace company's trade dispute with Bombardier Inc.

In a statement to the House of Commons Tuesday, Mr. Clark said officials have held a dozen meetings with Boeing executives and he has met with chief executive officer Dennis Muilenburg to urge him to withdraw the complaint.

Bombardier under fire: How the U.S. targeted the C Series

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Mr. Clark said he also made it clear to Mr. Muilenburg that "if there is to be a continuing relationship, then we need to have the confidence that [Boeing] will deal fairly with the United Kingdom. If this is to be a strategic partnership, it needs to be a partnership, and partners don't take the kind of action against an important United Kingdom interest that Boeing are seeking to do."

When asked specifically by Labour MP Kevan Jones whether Boeing was putting its commercial opportunities in the U.K. at risk unless it relented, Mr. Clark replied: "Yes."

The U.S. Department of Commerce has proposed import duties of almost 300 per cent on Bombardier's C Series aircraft because Boeing alleges the Montreal-based company has received illegal support from the Canadian and British governments and that Bombardier sells the planes in the United States at absurdly low prices. A final decision on the tariffs is expected early next year.

Mr. Clark reiterated Tuesday that the British government was "bitterly disappointed" with the U.S. action and added that Britain is working closely with the Canadian government on overturning the decision. He said British assistance to Bombardier, roughly $186-million, was legal and similar to the support the government has given to Boeing and other companies.

British Prime Minister Theresa May has twice spoken to U.S. President Donald Trump about the dispute.

Bombardier employs about 4,200 workers in the U.K., mainly in Northern Ireland at plants that make wings for the C Series. It has been estimated that another 9,000 jobs in the province are indirectly dependent on the Bombardier operation.

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Boeing has a sizable presence in Britain as well. The Chicago-based company employs about 2,300 people in the U.K. and recently began construction of a $32-million facility in Sheffield that will make parts for actuators, which move the flaps on jet wings. Britain's Ministry of Defence also has contracts to buy P-8 spy planes and 50 Apache helicopters from Boeing.

Mr. Clark said Tuesday that while Boeing's operations in Britain were important, the Bombardier case highlighted a bigger issue. "In participating in the aerospace sector … we expect, just as the Canadian government does, that if you are participating in institutions that are promoting the sector, you're not at the same time recklessly damaging another very important part of the sector," he told members of Parliament.

He added that he told Mr. Muilenburg that Boeing's reputation was at risk in the U.K. "We were very clear that Boeing has a reputation in this country that was beginning to grow in a positive way through the investment in Sheffield and elsewhere. And to jeopardize that reputation and relationship by doing something that is completely unjustified is something that I don't regard as being in the strategic interests of Boeing, and I said that very explicitly."

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About the Author
European Correspondent

Paul Waldie has been an award-winning journalist with The Globe and Mail for more than 10 years. He has won three National Newspaper Awards for business coverage and been nominated for a Michener Award for meritorious public service journalism. He has also won a Sports Media Canada award for sports writing and authored a best-selling biography of the McCain family. More

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