Business Secretary Sajid Javid appeared before the host’s inquisition on The Andy Marr Show (tm) this morning, and was instantly tripped up over the Government’s support for the UK’s steel industry. We would do everything we could, he told Marr. Would that mean a guarantee that the Port Talbot plant would stay open? Er, we would do everything we could, he repeated, sounding markedly less convincing as he did so.
Marr put it to Javid that the Tories had blocked moves to enable EU member states to impose tariffs on cheap Chinese steel. The Business Secretary was having none of that: he had done no such thing. But it seems he spoke with distinctly forked tongue, as the UK declined the EU’s suggestion that state aid to our own steel industry was permissible - last December. And it got worse - a lot worse.
Anti-dumping measures were blocked by the UK as recently as February. Moreover, the UK insisted that the EU move to grant China so-called “market economy status” at the same time. On top of that, Javid admitted to have been involved in talks with Tata Steel, owners of the Port Talbot plant now facing closure, for some months, and that he had known of the company’s decision to sell before he went off to Australia last week.
And it gets yet worse: Axel Eggert, head of the European Steel Association, which represents every steel producer on the continent, has confirmed to the FT that the UK had obstructed moves to shut out cheap Chinese Steel. He told “The UK is the ringleader in a blocking minority of member states that is preventing a European Commission proposal on the modernisation of Europe’s trade defence instruments”.
The FT goes on, with characteristic understatement, to say “The accusations that Britain’s hostility to trade restrictions is partly responsible for the crisis that has now put 15,000 workers at Tata Steel UK at risk are potentially damaging to David Cameron’s Government”. It will not have helped Javid that shadow chancellor John McDonnell preceded him on the Marr Show and put a reasonably coherent plan for moving forward from the current crisis. Javid’s lack of candour has now compounded the mess.
The French and Italians have also pointed the finger at the UK as the main culprit in blocking overhaul of EU anti-dumping rules. On a purely economic basis, producing steel in the UK may not make sense, but we now have tens of thousands of jobs that are dependent on that industry facing a very uncertain future - and no alternative employment in sight. The last thing we need is a minister being economical with the actualité.
Sajid Javid should consider an apology. Or he should consider his position.