Just over a month ago Boris Johnson discovered that he’s a Brexiteer. And only a few weeks later he’s come out as a Man of Steel. Two damascene conversions in one month. Could it be a record?
Building on his well-established track record as a passionate defender of working people, Boris has cast himself as the saviour of British steelworkers, bravely doing battle on their behalf against the evil European Union.
Ah yes, Boris has well and truly found the nearest telephone box, stepped inside, and re-emerged as a Man of Steel.
It would all be quite amusing, if it wasn’t so serious.
Because Boris Johnson and the Brexiteers are playing politics with people’s lives. For them, Brexit is a game. A sexy political experiment based on little more than a wing and a prayer. But they don’t have any skin in the game. Their jobs aren’t on the line. They’ll do just fine, thank you very much, regardless of the referendum’s outcome.
But for the steelworkers and their families in my constituency it’s a different story. Their livelihoods hang in the balance. Their communities are at risk of unravelling. Their public services are what’s at stake here.
If we vote to Leave Europe it’s not the Boris Johnsons of this world who will pay the price. Brexit would be the straw that broke the back of the British steel industry, and it’s the steelworkers and their families who would pay for it. With their jobs.
The uncertainty that would be unleashed by Brexit would send investors running for cover. And investment is the key to building a strong, sustainable steel industry.
And then there’s the impact on our trade with the EU. Not only are more than half of our steel exports to the EU, but Brexit would mean being hit with tariffs – under Boris’s preferred Canada model we would face tariffs of more than 20 per cent – and the loss of continent-wide anti-dumping measures against China. Out on our own, British steel would be easy pickings for punitive Chinese tariffs.
Boris claims that Europe blocked the imposition of tariffs on dumped Chinese steel. He seems to have confused the EU for the leadership of his own party. It’s the Conservatives who champion market economy status for China and have opposed tariff reforms that would allow us to impose meaningful tariffs on dumped steel.
The reality is that the true threat to British steel is not Europe, but the Conservative party.
If Boris were serious about standing up for steel he’d join me in pressing the government to work with Europe to reform tariffs, stand up to Chinese dumping and help Europe to support steelmaking areas by accessing the globalization adjustment fund.
We need an engaged prime minister, working with Europe on state aid rules to support a turnaround plan based on specialised new technology and long-term viability.
If Boris and the Brexiteers really cared about the future of British steel they would see the crisis and look for solutions, not for political opportunities.
So, let’s be clear: while the knock-on effect of Brexit would be the collapse of the British steel industry, the knock-on effect for Boris would be his elevation to No 10 Downing Street. Let’s ensure that we bear that contrast in mind as we head towards June 23.