Stephen Kinnock, who represents the constituency which has the Port Talbot steelworks, accused Brexit campaigners of “cynically attempting to hijack and exploit” the steel crisis for their own advantage.
Writing for the Guardian, the MP for the Aberavon said it was absurd to suggest that leaving the EU would allow the government to protect the British steel industry.
“The reality is that the European commission has been trying to tackle the steel crisis for years now, but has consistently been hamstrung by a British government fighting tooth and nail to undermine those efforts,” he said.
Kinnock, who travelled with union leaders to Mumbai earlier this week in a last-ditch attempt to persuade Tata Steel to retain the Port Talbot steelworks, said the government had actively blocked the commission’s attempts to toughen up anti-dumping from China, which has flooded the market with cheap steel.
He called the UK the “ringleader of a backroom campaign” to prevent reforms, and said it was lobbying hard for China to be granted “market economy status” despite 80% of its steel industry being state-owned.
Kinnock argued that the Conservative government also had an ideological opposition to the European globalisation adjustment fund that might help support the industry cope with redundancies and global shocks.
“The EU accounts for over half our steel exports. A Brexit based on the so-called ‘Canada model’ would mean paying hefty tariffs on every tonne of steel that we sell into the EU, which would surely be a killer blow for an industry that is already struggling to compete.”
Brexit campaigners hit back, including from Kinnock’s own party. Labour MP Kate Hoey, a leading figure for Grassroots Out, said EU regulations were “killing” Britain’s steel industry, making it impossible to compete with non-EU countries.
“The European Union also ties the UK’s hands on state aid, preventing us from temporarily nationalising the industry under their inflexible single market competition rules. This would allow Port Talbot to ride out the storm until steel prices recover and a new buyer is found.”
Her view was backed up by a former Labour trade minister under Tony Blair. Nigel Griffiths argued that during his time in government the most common complaint was “Brussels red tape strangling enterprises, of high energy prices and the lack of protection from dumping”.
“A decade on, these three factors make the prospects of someone buying the entire plant very unlikely. This puts a risk steelmaking production in the UK and the livelihoods of a community.”