The Secretary of State for the new Department for International Trade has said the government ‘must turn our back on…voices that tell us: it’s OK you can protect bits of your industry’ in a speech to the right wing Conservative Way Forward group.
The speech, leaked to the Times newspaper on Saturday, urged the government to be ‘unreconstructed, unapologetic free traders’. Such an approach would have serious consequences for the UK steel industry, which has suffered following a flood of cheap Chinese steel into the European and UK markets.
Tom Blenkinsop, MP for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland, who last week asked Mrs May to implement ‘trade defence measures’ on Chinese steel dumping, said the comments were worrying:
This government’s promise of a comprehensive Industrial Strategy gave many people employed in the steel industry hope that Theresa May’s government would actually take UK steel’s concerns seriously.
However, this speech suggests that Liam Fox is unwilling to help protect the industry from the dumping of Chinese steel. That steel is sold in Europe and elsewhere by Chinese state-owned companies at below cost price – something no one can compete with.
I believe that on a level playing field UK steel would be able to compete and could be a world leader. But we’re not on a level playing field and we never will be if the government listens to Liam Fox and abandons UK steel to the forces of this distorted market.
Liam Fox’s speech also drew controversy by referring to British businesses as ‘fat and lazy’. No. 10 has said that the Secretary of State for International Trade was merely ‘expressing private views’.