There is a free market case for arguing that the steel industry should simply take the pain (in other words, that 15,000 workers must lose their jobs if necessary) because the costs of manufacturing in Britain are too high for Tata Steel – and that’s more or less the sum of it. However, this argument doesn’t take into the account the dumping of steel by China on the world markets, which accounts for much of steel’s troubles here and abroad.
And in any event, the Government is plainly not going simply to stand by and let workers in Shotton, Rotherham, Scunthorpe, Walsall, Redcar, Corby, (and elsewhere) go to the wall. Anna Soubry is up and about saying that “in the words of the Prime Minister, we are unequivocal in saying that steel is a vital industry” – which means that a rescue package will be found, presumably funded by the taxpayer if no other plan is forthcoming.
She has blamed Vince Cable for not doing more under the Coalition; he is rising from the dead to blame this majority Conservative Government. In the meantime, Tom Pursglove – MP for Corby, remember – says that financial support “has been held up for months as a direct result of slow EU state aid processes” and that the European Commission isn’t taking “robust action” in response to China’s dumping.
All this is further confirmation, were it needed, that politics-as-usual has stopped: there is no economic development, no political happening, that cannot be framed as part of the referendum debate. This is inevitable, given the scale and implications of the decision. There will presumably be a let-up in the run-up to May’s elections, and again before the Queen’s Speech. But otherwise fasten your belts until June for the EU referendum rollercoaster ride.
Further to that point, Stephen Kinnock is probing away at what he hopes will be a Tory weakness. Sajid Javid is visiting Australia. Soubry was left earlier today to front for the Government. Kinnock is complaining that the Government wants to “roll out the red carpet for China” – thus attempting to weld together China’s dumping, George Osborne’s pro-China stance, and a Business Secretary who lines up with the Chancellor over Brexit.