The UK Tory government has voted against Labour’s motion designed to protect our steel industry from being flooded by cheap, carbon-intensive steel imported from abroad.
This sums up what the Tories think about this critical industry and the jobs and security it provides.
My Aberavon constituency is home to the UK’s largest steelworks, employing around 4,000 men and women, and sustaining thousands more jobs through its supply chains. The steelworks are the beating heart of our local economy and community, yet for 10 years, successive Conservative Governments have failed to recognise that the steel industry not only delivers prosperity, but also makes a vital contribution to our country’s security and resilience.
Every military vehicle, major infrastructure project and power station requires steel. Steel enables us to stand on our own two feet as a nation. Homegrown steel is the only route to tackling climate change, and it will play a critical role in greening our economy, from electric cars to solar, wind and tidal power. British production processes have half the carbon footprint of China’s far less decarbonised steel industry, and shipping steel from the other side of the world is obviously more carbon intensive.
That is why Labour Members are clear about our determination to keep all 19 UK steel safeguards. This is not in any way an argument against free and fair trade; it is an argument for free and fair trade, because the “free” without the “fair” is meaningless, and we cannot have one without the other. Global overcapacity in 2019 was estimated to be 514 million tonnes, dwarfing the 10 million tonne UK market. That was largely driven by China, whose steel industry is 80% state owned, and deliberately over-produces and illegally dumps steel to damage western economies. Indeed, only two out of the top 10 steel markets in the world currently have no tariffs or quotas in place. When a tidal wave is about to hit, it makes no sense to remove our flood defences.
This entire process has been a shambles from start to finish. First, too many powers were handed to the Trade Remedies Authority. Secondly, the TRA failed to undertake a responsible process. It failed to use accurate industry figures, to engage properly with industry and trade unions, or to consider the interconnectedness of the industry, and the impact that the removal of those nine safeguards will have on wider business models. That points to a wider fear that the Conservatives’ independent trade policy has nothing to do with supporting UK business to flourish, and is in fact all about removing safeguards and lowering standards, so that the UK can more easily negotiate minor trade deals.
Last week the Government sold out our farmers in desperation to get the UK-Australia deal across the line. Now they are looking to sell out our steelworkers, with the removal of steel import safeguards. Tonight’s vote is a big moment for the Government. Indeed, it is a litmus test of their much-heralded independent trade policy.