I spoke in last night’s debate on steel safeguards to speak up for the Newport East steel sector and workforce in the Labour initiated debate on protecting our industry. The Tories voted against measures to keep steel safeguards – leaving us open to a flood of cheaper imports.
You can read my speech from the debate in full below.
I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Islington South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry) for initiating this crucial debate in Opposition time, which shows that she is giving it the importance that it deserves, and for making such a strong case for the need for emergency legislation to allow Ministers to reject the TRA’s recommendations and temporarily extend the steel safeguards so that they do not expire at the end of the month and we can allow for a longer-term solution. It was a pity that we had such a woeful response from the Minister tonight.
Let us remember that UK Steel called the TRA’s recommendations “a hammer blow to the UK steel sector” and to steel communities. I echo what other hon. Members have said about the TRA recommendations. The safeguards are vital if we are to provide a stable environment for the sector and protect against unprecedented import surges from better-protected markets. Slashing those safeguards after Brexit would see the UK become one of the least protected of the major steel markets, undermining our own industry. The EU is maintaining its old steel safeguards, as is the USA. Why, at a time when the global steel market is dealing with overcapacity and looking to recover from the economic shock of the pandemic, are our Government even considering allowing the withdrawal of vital protections for our steel sector?
Steel should be at the heart of our economic recovery. It employs 33,000 people directly and is a strategic industry that is vital to our regional economies. Removing key steel safeguards would simply compound the prevailing challenges that the industry already faces. Our steelworkers, including those at Tata Llanwern, Liberty and Celsa in Toggle showing location ofColumn 697my constituency, are some of the most experienced and best-skilled in the world, but they already have to compete with one hand behind their back in so many ways, with sky-high industrial energy costs and frankly inadequate UK Government procurement policies. Then there is the whole issue of bonded warehouses, which effectively undercut producers by waiving duties on cheap foreign imports. We need action on that for the Liberty plant in my constituency, currently being undercut by the storage of massive imports of Turkish steel products in bonded warehouses.
When Britain left the EU, this Tory Government made a promise that we would be able to support British industry more than we had done previously and that foundation sectors such as steel would be at the forefront of the Government’s thinking. Unfortunately, here is one of the major tests of our new trading priorities, and the Government are sitting on their hands and pretending there is nothing they can do. How can our steel sites supposedly make a business case to investors for long-term projects such as decarbonising when the Government speak positively about the industry one day, only to strip away protections the next? It is a nonsense. I urge the Government to get their act together and secure a long-term solution on safeguards, which are so important to the industry. There is a motion here today that they could choose to adopt, and in doing so they could help the industry. It is a massive test for the Government, and one our industry cannot afford for them to fail.