Business secretary Sajid Javid is trying to set himself up as the man to save the British steel industry from a crisis.
And he’s trying to get the EU’s help to do it.
Javid has called a series of emergency meetings with EU officials to try and push the UK’s steel crisis to the top of the agenda.
On Wednesday he is meeting with Cecilia Malmstrom, the EU Trade Commissioner, as well as other senior officials.
The meetings will include seeing the EU’s Trade Commission Vice President Jyrki Katainen, along with Industry and Internal Market Commissioner Elzbieta Bienkowska.
According to the BBC, Javid has been contacting EU member states to push home the need for urgent action on the huge problems facing steelmakers across Europe.
“I want to see steel top of the EU agenda … We cannot stand by while the steel industry across Europe, not just in the UK, faces such unprecedented challenges. The government wants to work with the EU and our European partners to do all we can to support our steel industry,” said Javid.
Javid is trying to jump to the rescue of the industry which has seen a perfect storm of problems push many of Britain’s steelmakers to the brink. Global steel prices have sunk to their lowest levels in 12 years, due to a global oversupply caused by production in China.
The British industry simply cannot compete and it is now far cheaper to import steel than it is to use the British stuff. Add to that the high cost of exporting British steel thanks to the strong pound and it is clear to see why Sajid Javid wants to intervene.
On Tuesday, Anna Soubry, the business minister told MPs that Javid wants to prevent the dumping of cheap steel, and is open to exploring the “nuclear option” of protectionism, saying “I think safeguarding, which is what we call the nuclear option, is certainly one of the options that we are at least considering.”
As Javid meets with EU officials, steel industry unions are preparing to lobby MPs about the growing crisis, according to the BBC. Roy Rickhuss, the general secretary of the Community Union has already sent the business secretary a letter calling for a meeting.
“Considering the urgency of the situation, and the ongoing threat to jobs and businesses across the UK, I believe it is important you meet with representatives of the steel unions at the earliest opportunity to discuss recent events and how we might work together in support of the industry.” he said in the letter, parts of which were originally published by the BBC.
As it stands, the Redcar steelworks, one of Britain’s oldest, has already closed down, costing more than 2,000 jobs, and Tata steel is cutting 1,200 from its plants in Scunthorpe and Lanarkshire. Add to this Caparo going into administration and it’s clear the industry is in bad shape.
One of the biggest problems facing British steel plants is the huge cost of implementing new EU emissions rules that come into play in January.
The rules would cost plants millions of pounds, however the government has now submitted a proposal to Brussels which would allow British plants up to four and a half more years to come into line with the regulations. This would allow plants to spread their costs across a much longer period.
In a statement on Tuesday Sajid Javid said: “I am acutely aware of the challenges currently facing our steel industry and where the government can help support them we will. We recognised the costs these regulations could have and are working with businesses to agree a flexible and common sense way forward that doesn’t damage our competitiveness.”