The Government will maintain trade safeguards for the UK steel industry for another two years, a minister has announced.
International Trade Secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan also said the plans to protect British steel producers depart from the UK’s “international legal obligations” but are in the “national interest”.
But some Conservative MPs were unhappy with the move “down the protectionism route” rather than seeking to cut energy costs for the sector.
Earlier this month, Boris Johnson’s ethics chief Lord Geidt quit after it was claimed he had been put in an “impossible and odious” position by the Prime Minister.
Lord Geidt said he had been narrowly clinging on in his role over partygate but ultimately quit after being forced into the “impossible and odious” position by the Prime Minister over steel tariffs.
Ms Trevelyan pulled out of a select committee appearance on Wednesday morning to tell the Commons that the UK would be extending protections for five types of steel products.
Following Brexit, the UK has rolled over European Union quotas and tariffs on 10 categories of steel, until mid-2024.
The Government has now decided to extend temporary safeguards on five other categories until the same date.
Ms Trevelyan told MPs she had considered a report by the Trade Remedies Authority into the matter and concluded “there would be serious injury or the threat of serious injury to UK steel producers if the safeguards on the five additional categories of steel were to be removed at this time”.
She added: “Given the broader national interest significance of this strategic UK industry and the global disruptions to the energy markets and supply chains that the UK currently faces, we have concluded that it is in the economic interest of the UK to maintain these safeguards to reduce the risk of material harm if they were not maintained.
“I am therefore extending the measure on the five steel categories for a further two years until June 30, 2024, alongside the other 10 categories.
“This means the safeguard will remain in place on all 15 categories, updated from July 1 to reflect recent trade flows.”
The International Trade Secretary added: “The Government wishes to make it clear to Parliament that the decision to extend the safeguards on the five product categories departs from our international legal obligations under the relevant WTO agreement, as relates to the five product categories.
“However, from time to time, issues may arise where the national interest requires action to be taken which may be in tension with normal rules and procedures.
“The Government is therefore actively engaged with interested parties, including those outside the UK on the future of the UK safeguards and has listened to the concerns raised.”
Ms Trevelyan confirmed Ukrainian steel “will not be subject to the additional safeguard quotas and duty”.
For Labour, shadow international trade secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds said: “The extension of safeguards will come as a welcome relief to the steel sector and it is not anti-competitive to provide a level playing field for our steel industry, and I also support the decision to exclude Ukrainian steel.”
He added it is “regrettable” the resolution has “once again gone to the eleventh hour” and warned there are “shortcomings” in the Government’s support for steel.
Conservative MP Anthony Mangnall (Totnes), a member of the International Trade Committee, said: “I never thought being a free trader in this party would be such a unique rare position to hold.
“I’m fully supportive of supporting the steel industry, I absolutely am, but not through protective measures.
“I ask the Secretary of State what message is this meant to send to Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Japan or any other country that we’re signing free trade agreements with when we end up citing national interest over the agreements that we’ve signed.”
Mr Mangnall also said: “I urge all colleagues, when it comes to it on the Australia free trade agreement to reject it and extend the Crag (Constitutional Reform and Governance Act) process for a further 21 days.”
Peter Bone, Conservative MP for Wellingborough, said: “I do have concerns that we’ve gone down the protectionism route rather than cutting the energy costs.
“I’m afraid, minister, you mentioned net zero more times than you’ve mentioned cutting the energy costs.”
He added: “It’s no good talking about green steel in the future if we don’t have an industry.”
Conservative former minister Sir Christopher Chope said the announcement would help Reidsteel in his Christchurch constituency, adding: “What’s going to happen in two years’ time? Can she guarantee that Reidsteel will be able to get supplies of clean British steel in two years’ time?
“If not, isn’t she going to need to abandon this doctrine about net zero because what’s more important than actually being able to supply homegrown steel for people in Christchurch to manufacture to export?”