Business Secretary Sajid Javid to urge EU to act to save steel industry


Urgent action across Europe is needed to tackle the crisis in the steel industry, Sajid Javid will tell officials in Brussels.

Ministers insist that the "nuclear option" of protectionist measures to combat the dumping of cheap steel by China should be considered as a potential way to protect European producers.

The Business Secretary will call for an emergency summit with counterparts from across the European Union to respond to a series of setbacks which have left the British steel industry on the brink of collapse.

The talks in Brussels come as steelworkers head to Westminster to lobby MPs demanding that the Government takes action to tackle the crisis.

Workers from steel communities in Teesside, Lincolnshire, Yorkshire, the West Midlands and south Wales will travel to Parliament ahead of a Labour-led debate on the wave of job losses in the sector.

Thousands of job cuts have been announced in recent weeks by Tata Steel and SSI in Redcar, Scunthorpe and Scotland, with cheap imports and high energy costs being blamed.

Further losses are threatened at steel processing giant Caparo Industries, which has gone into administration.

Mr Javid is calling for an emergency European Union meeting to discuss the state of the steel industry and unfair trade practices.

In Brussels he will hold talks with Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom, Internal Market Commissioner Elzbieta Bienkowska and vice-President Jyrki Katainen.

The Business Secretary said: "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. "There are no straightforward solutions to the complex global challenges but the UK government wants to work with the EU and our European partners to do all we can to support our steel industry."

Mr Javid has also been in negotiations with the commission on speeding up work to approve the UK's Energy Intensive Industries (EII) compensation scheme, which could benefit steelmakers.

Business Minister Anna Soubry told MPs that Mr Javid was also seek action to tackle dumping of cut-price steel in European markets, with the possibility of "safeguarding" tariffs an option.

She said: "It's not just about advancing the EII it's also about working with other member states so that we can look at what more we can do.

"I think safeguarding, which is what we call the nuclear option, is certainly one of the options that we are at least considering."

During an appearance before the Business Select Committee, Ms Soubry revealed she only found out about the collapse of SSI's parent company from a message on Twitter.

"Do you know how people knew that the Thai company had gone into, effectively, administration? A tweet was sent out that we happened to get because we're on social media in my bedroom in Redcar," she said.

Ms Soubry said that "nine months ago we knew there were difficulties in the steel industry" and that SSI was losing hundreds of millions of pounds but "what we didn't know was the scale of them not paying their bills".

She also acknowledged that David Cameron's talks with Chinese president Xi Jinping over steel dumping were unlikely to have achieved anything "tangible".

Anna Soubry told MPs the Prime Minister had done the right thing by raising the issue with the Chinese leader and the Government will be "like a dog with a bone" in pursuing the issue.

The UK rolled out the red carpet for Mr Xi on his state visit, but the Chinese leader faced criticism over the country's policy on steel exports.

Chancellor George Osborne said the visit meant that the UK could question the Chinese about their production and "how that's distorting world prices", while Mr Cameron raised the issue during talks in Downing Street.

The select committee's Labour chairman Iain Wright asked Ms Soubry: "Did the Prime Minister achieve anything?"

She replied: "Yes. He raised it with the Chinese."

Mr Wright pushed her to find out from Number 10 what "actual tangible actions" came out of raising the issue, but Ms Soubry told him: "I don't think anything would though, would it?"

An angry Mr Wright challenged her: "What on earth is the point of raising it when nothing happened?" 

The MPs were given a stark warning about the health of the industry by Gareth Stace, director of trade body UK Steel

He said that a fifth of the sector's UK workforce had lost their job or were facing redundancy following a recent wave of cuts.

"If we were a patient on an operating table, we are bleeding very quickly. And we are likely to die on that table," he said.