EU reform is key to an industry facing its greatest crisis
ANOTHER day and another devastating blow for the remants of this region’ steel industry – the backbone of Yorkshire’s manufacturing heritage – with the loss of 900 jobs in Scunthorpe less than a week after Redcar’s SSI plant closed for the final time.
Yet, while it is ironic that these announcements should coincide with the state visit of President Xi Jinping when the over-supply of steel in China has led to a collapse in global prices, Business Secretary Sajid Javid’s promise to help British producers will be rendered redundant unless he can persuade the European Union to amend its industrial policies.
As the former Thatcherite minister John Redwood concedes in an unlikely intervention, steel “is worth fighting for” because “the UK is going to need a lot of steel to build cars in our successful motor industry, to modernise and expand the railway, to add to the stock of taller offices and flats in our main cities, to sustain our oil, gas and petrochemical industry and for many other uses”. However this will not happen, he warns, if plants remain crippled by unsustainable energy costs driven by Brussels.
It does not end here – there is now a very strong case for the Government revisiting rules on EU state aid, one reason why Ministers can’t do more for the stricken plants at Redcar, Scunthorpe and elsewhere by amending the 1972 European Communities Act so that Parliament can make decisions contrary to European law when economic hardship justifies urgent action.
This patriotic capitalism would at least buy time for the steel industry to allow for an adjustment in global prices while Mr Javid uses his influence, and the renegotiation of Britain’s membership of the EU, to safeguard manufacturing here before it is too late. If not, any pretence about a ‘march of the makers’ will be as hollow as the sound now echoing across empty steel plants.