Brexit campaigners have hit out at the European Union’s role in the Port Talbot steel crisis, accusing it imposing harsh regulations that stopped Britain saving its largest steel works.
Tata Steel announced this week it was pulling out of Britain, thanks to an influx of cheap Chinese steel, putting thousands of jobs in Port Talbot, Wales at risk.
The FT reports that Eurosceptics have pointed out the European Union’s double role in the crisis hitting the British steel industry. First, it is not doing enough to combat “dumping” of cheap steel by Chinese producers, who have double their exports since 2013 after losing billions of dollars due to falling domestic demand.
Second, EU aid rules prevent member states from propping up failing state companies. The bloc has already ordered Belgium to remove €211 million of state aid from steelmaker Duferco Group, issuing a statement that “EU state-aid rules do not allow public support for the rescue and restructuring of companies in difficulty in the steel sector”.
This was, it claimed, “to ensure a level playing field for those steelmakers that have already been carrying out painful and costly restructuring plans funded through private resources”.
The strict regulations raise the possibility of the UK government having a showdown with Brussels if it chooses to bail out the Port Talbot steel works – right as Prime Minister David Cameron campaigns for Britain to stay in the EU.
UKIP leader Nigel Farage said: “It is desperately sad that inside EU we are not in control of our industries. The British government and Welsh first minister are completely impotent on stopping the Chinese dumping of steel on the market.”
Labour MP Kate Hoey also said it was impossible for the UK to compete with countries such as Norway and the United States thanks to EU regulations: “The EU has sat on its hands and allowed China to dump cheap steel on European countries. Its inertia has allowed the price of steel on the continent to collapse and cripple producers in Britain.
“It is sickening how our membership of the EU has left us powerless to protect this major strategic asset that employs 5,500 people directly, many more indirectly and is the beating heart of its local community.”
Yesterday, Simon Boyd, director of Reid Steel, told Sky News: “We in our membership of the European Union are prevented from intervening in a way that other governments can. If you look at what happened in America for example, Chinese dumping went on there, the Americans put an appropriate tariff on imported steel, problem solved.”