The head of the Labour Party’s pro-EU campaign insists it was the UK government which blocked any intervention during the Teesside steel crisis – in order to do a “sweetheart” deal with China.
Former Home Secretary Alan Johnson, chairman of Labour’s In campaign, visited Teesside on Wednesday during a tour of the North-East.
He stopped off at the Rediscover Stockton Shop on Stockton High Street before visiting Middlesbrough town centre and the Materials Processing Institute (MPI) in Middlesbrough.
Asked about the EU’s role in the Tees steel crisis, Mr Johnson told Tees Business: “We were saying at the time that Europe ought to do more to put tariffs on Chinese steel and they have the ability to do that.
“We now find out the reason they weren’t doing more was because the British Government was blocking it – and that is a very important revelation.
“Why were they doing that? Because they wanted a ‘sweetheart’ deal with China.
“What does that tell you if we came out of Europe? Britain would never stand up to China alone, we can only stand up to China within the EU.
“And as all the union guys in steel will tell you, 50% of our steel experts go to the European Union, if you want to kill off the steel industry in this country that’s the most effective way to do it.”
Mr Johnson had earlier visited Hitachi Rail Europe’s new £85m train-assembling factory in Newton Aycliffe (pictured above).
He urged voters to listen to the “experts” when deciding how to vote on June 23.
“Don’t take it from me, take it from the Institute for Fiscal Studies – the most respected, independent financial and economic institution,” he said.
“If you don’t take it from them, take it from the Governor of the Bank of England, take it Oxford Economics, the London School of Economics, the IMF (International Monetary Fund), the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development)… they all say the same thing, that there is a chunk of our wealth at risk here, that is anywhere between 4-6%, and there’s also a black hole – anything between £36bn and £46bn
“So in terms of jobs, prosperity and austerity… if we vote to leave then it’s a one-way ticket to a very bleak economic future.”
Earlier on Wednesday, Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland MP Tom Blenkinsop questioned the Chancellor on government steel policy in Parliament.
Hundreds of steelworkers from across the country marched through London to demand the Government ensures the responsible sale of Tata Steel’s UK assets – which include Hartlepool Pipe Mill.
Blenkinsop said the Chancellor was putting his own interests ahead of British steelworkers.
“Why does this Government back China’s bid for market economy status against the interests of British steelworkers,” he asked.
“Why does this Chancellor block changes against the lesser duty tariffs against the interest of British steelworkers?
“And when will he set down an industrial strategy to put British steelworkers interests ahead of his own?”
George Osborne replied: “We have taken action to reduce energy charges on energy intensive industries.
“We have taken action to make sure there’s more flexibility with emission regulations, doing everything we can to help this industry in a very difficult time including making sure there are tough tariffs on Chinese dumping and as a results of the tariffs that have been introduced on steel those imports are down 19%.”