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Port Talbot is a victim of net zero madness

The Port Talbot steelworks
The Port Talbot steelworks

In a world of untrammelled free trade, we would import goods we need from countries where they can be made more cheaply without worrying about security of supply.

We are not in such a world. Domestic production of food, for instance, cannot be entirely proxied out even if we wanted to do so. The same can be said of steelmaking. It is a strategic industry without which we are left at the dubious mercy of events beyond our control.

In recent days, there have been warnings both from Nato and senior ministers that these times are more dangerous than any since the end of the Second World War. This is not the moment to risk what remains of our steel industry in pursuit of unrealistic carbon reduction targets.

The fate of the Port Talbot steelworks is the most egregious example of this short-sightedness. The owners Tata are to close two blast furnaces and build a new “green” electric arc furnace plant, which is said to be more environmentally friendly.

The decision means the loss of nearly 3,000 jobs in an area that is already deeply deprived. But to what end? The closure will reduce British carbon output by only 1.5 per cent. As steel will have to be imported from countries like China, global emissions might rise as a consequence.

Does anyone in a position to influence these decisions appreciate how completely insane they appear to voters, or care if they do? Steel manufacturing has become uncompetitive because of high electricity prices, which successive governments have declined to address. The industry has been paying between 60 and 80 per cent more than counterparts in France or Germany.

Even as the price of gas was falling in the years before the Ukraine war, British electricity prices doubled. We have closed our coal industry while China opened more pits to produce the steel we will need to import. The whole exercise is madness and, as reported at the weekend, predicated upon insufficient data about the feasibility of reaching net zero by 2050 before the target was enshrined in law five years ago.

Labour, which would normally seek to protect the jobs at Port Talbot, is compromised by its own commitment to net zero and is reduced to making airy-fairy policy promises aimed at accelerating the drive to net zero, boosting jobs and keeping down energy prices. This is a false prospectus, and one that the electorate appears increasingly unprepared to follow.

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