Kwasi Kwarteng, the business secretary, says there is a “strong argument” for supporting the steel industry amid expectations that the government will extend import tariffs despite the risk of breaking international law.
Yesterday he told the business, energy and industrial strategy committee that “free trade is all very well but if everyone else is supporting a strategic industry, I think there is a strong argument for us in this country to do so”.
He added: “I would hate to see a Britain where we didn’t produce any steel, where we were reliant completely on the international market … and then when we needed to make the steel, we had no capacity.”
Last week Boris Johnson announced provisional plans to extend existing steel tariffs, largely on developed countries and China, by a further two years, before some expire tomorrow. The UK and EU introduced measures in 2018 to protect producers from cheap foreign steel, with a 25 per cent tariff incurred for imports above a set quota.
Last week UK Steel said the latest plans would “guard against anticipated surges in imports from trade diverted away from the US and EU markets” and which otherwise would have “risked jobs, investment and our ability to transition to net zero”.
Kwarteng said that “every single G7 country produces steel and every single one of them support those industries, and the reason they support it is because it’s strategic. If they, crudely, want to build tanks or build military hardware, they don’t want to have to enter into some free trade international market depending on China.”
He said there were other resources Britain could produce domestically, such as lithium in Cornwall, and that the government’s critical mineral strategy would be “out very soon”.
He also confirmed that the government was working on separating gas and electricity prices in a market revamp as more of the country’s electricity comes from renewable sources.
Kwasi Kwarteng said it was premature to assume consumers would pick up the bill from the rescue of Bulb, the collapsed energy supplier. It made an £886 million loss in the six months after it was bailed out by taxpayers in November, a report from Teneo, the administrator, showed. It has about 1.5 million customers, suggesting it lost almost £600 for each household to which it supplies gas and electricity. Kwarteng said that the government was in talks with “more than one” prospective buyer.