Sheffield MPs ramp up fight to keep protections for steel industry

Sheffield MPs have been lining up to criticise Government plans to remove safeguards against dumping of cheap steel in the UK - including Tory Miriam Cates.

Thursday, 24th June 2021, 11:10 am

The MP for Penistone and Stocksbridge has called for an urgent reform of trade laws to protect the steel industry from unfair global trading practices.

Stocksbridge is home to a Liberty Speciality Steels plant employing more than 600.

In a speech in the House of Commons, Mrs Cates called the decision by an independent body to remove nine safeguards "incomprehensible" and said that the Government does not have the legal powers it needs to prevent this from happening.

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Miriam Cates MP at the Liberty Speciality Steel headquarters in Stocksbridge.
Miriam Cates MP at the Liberty Speciality Steel headquarters in Stocksbridge.

She said: “Steel supports hundreds of jobs in Stocksbridge, and is vital for our local economy. We simply cannot afford to lose these important protections when the EU and US are keeping their safeguards in place.

“This is a complex legal issue, but one that must be resolved urgently to avoid potentially devastating consequences."

The Trade Remedies Authority, which made the decision, is independent of government, and the Secretary of State for International Trade can only accept the recommendations in full - or allow all 19 protective measures to fall instead.

The Secretary of State does not have the legal power to amend the recommendations, or to extend the existing safeguards against the TRA's recommendations.

Sheffield Central MP Paul Blomfield wrote to Prime Minister Boris Johnson urging him to protect the industry saying cheap foreign imports could undercut Sheffield’s steel production.

He said: “Margaret Thatcher destroyed thousands of steel jobs in Sheffield, David Cameron pulled planned support for local steel producers, and now Boris Johnson is betraying remaining steel producers.

“It’s putting their ideology of free trade at any price before British jobs. So while the EU keeps these safeguards for their steel producers, the UK government are failing to do the same – making us doubly vulnerable as the target for cheap foreign steel.

“It’s another example of this Government using its so-called ‘Brexit freedom’ to throw British business under the bus. Last week it was agriculture, with an Australian trade deal undercutting British farmers and food standards, and this week it’s steel.”

In Rotherham, Sarah Champion MP, said she feared for the future of the Liberty Narrow Strip Mill in Brinsworth if the protections were dropped.

She said: “The Government is gambling with the future of steel workers in Rotherham should it allow safeguards to lapse. This is the first real test of Britain’s independent trade policy following Brexit, but rather than using its new-found freedom of action to defend this vital strategic industry, it stands to be thrown to the wolves.”

A spokeswoman for the Department of International Trade said: “Rejecting the TRA’s recommendation would mean all 19 of the product categories within the safeguard measure expire on 30 June - even the 10 the TRA recommends the UK should keep.

“Any forcing through of legislation in order to disregard the TRA recommendation, which is based on evidence provided by interested parties including importers, domestic producers and overseas exporters, would breach World Trade Organization rules, leaving us open to challenge and retaliation.”

Trade Secretary Liz Truss’s options were limited, she can accept the TRA’s recommendation as written, or reject it on the grounds that it is not in the public interest, she added.

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Thank you. Nancy Fielder, editor.