Mark Casci: Stench of hypocrisy over British Steel collapse

British Steel was acquired by Greybull Capital for a nominal 1 in 2016
British Steel was acquired by Greybull Capital for a nominal 1 in 2016
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IT was perhaps the cruellest of ironies that as Theresa May stood at the Dispatch Box extolling the virtues of leadership just hours after her Government enacted one of the most shameful derelictions of leadership seen in recent times.

Read more: Shock as British Steel goes into liquidation

Prime Minister Theresa May speaks during Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons. Credit: House of Commons/PA

Prime Minister Theresa May speaks during Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons. Credit: House of Commons/PA

Read more: British Steel owner seeks bailout

The reason for British Steel’s plight came straight from the abject failure of the House of Commons to handle Brexit. Its owner, Greybull Capital, had been seeking financial support from the Government, saying it faced a number of Brexit related issues.

However this request was ultimately declined by the Government, placing a massive section of the UK economy into jeopardy.

For clarity, the Brexit related issues British Steel cites take the form of sizeable slump in orders from Europe owing to the ongoing prospect of Britain exiting the EU with no withdrawal agreement.

With Mrs May’s time in office potentially set to come to an end within days, and the leading candidates to replace her favouring the folly of leaving without a deal, this concern appears more and more valid.

British Steel at Scunthorpe as the waiting continues

British Steel at Scunthorpe as the waiting continues

Let us be absolutely clear, this is not some isolated local job loss story.

British Steel is among the most iconic corporate brands in our nation’s history and the news that it faces collapse is of colossal importance to the entire country.

Four and half thousand staff’s jobs are now at risk, the majority of which are in the Yorkshire and Humber region at its bases in Skinningrove and Scunthorpe.

A further 20,000 jobs in the company’s supply chain are also at risk. And then there is the far from insignificant issue that as much as 95 per cent of the rails supplied to Network Rail are produced by British Steel.

File photo dated 23/04/19 of an EU and Union flag held aloft in Westminster, London. Photo credit should read: Yui Mok/PA Wire

File photo dated 23/04/19 of an EU and Union flag held aloft in Westminster, London. Photo credit should read: Yui Mok/PA Wire

This is a crisis, and one that requires Government intervention to solve it. Alas, it has been made clear that no such intervention is to be forthcoming.

Business Secretary Greg Clark issued a statement in which he cited regulations on state aide.

“The Government can only act within the law, which requires any financial support to a steel company to be on a commercial basis.

“I have been advised that it would be unlawful to provide a guarantee or loan on the terms of any proposals that the company or any other party has made.”

Without specifying which laws he was adhering to we must assume Mr Clark was referring to the common ones observed around the European Union.

The problem with this statement is that it seems to ignore that these regulations can be circumvented.

The Italian Government stepped in to save the Ilva plant in 2017 by nationalising it.

As well as its UK operations, British Steel also operates plants in France and the Netherlands. You can be almost certain that the Governments in those two nations will be extremely unlikely to allow these plants to close.

The Conservative Government of this country has repeated ad nauseam for the past few years that it believes it has a duty to deliver Brexit.

However if it is to fulfil this mission it must also have a moral duty to protect against any damage that may be incurred in the process.

The ongoing failure of leadership from Government to deliver a viable means of exiting the EU that enjoyed the support of MPs has led us to this place, meaning that a No Deal Brexit and the disastrous economic impact it will have on the country, is currently the easiest and most probable means of delivering the result of the 2016 referendum.

It did not have to be this way but ideology replaced leadership a long time ago in the corridors of Westminster.

The fate of a massive employer now hangs on the hope that a new buyer can be found, and one that is prepared to shoulder the incumbrances attached to it. Tens of thousands of lives face being ruined by this farce.

It is a mess of Government’s own creation and the fact that it is unwilling to clean it up speaks to a rank hypocrisy that none of us should be prepared to stomach.