British steel is vital for our national security
In the last few months, the world has changed. Putin’s illegal invasion of Ukraine has shifted the European security order in a way that will have wide-ranging implications for generations to come.
Entering this new reality, we need to strengthen both defences abroad and at home. That demands a serious conversation about Britain’s capabilities to stand on its own two feet and produce the hardware we need for our national security and strategic infrastructure.
Over the past two years the pandemic demonstrated the fragility of international trading arrangements, and now Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine brings new uncertainties to the world. This only reinforces the need for a strong British steel industry with British supply chains to boost national industrial resilience.
Our steel industry is fundamental to Britain’s economic independence and our national security, we must never take it for granted. The leading world powers, including America, are built on the foundation of a strong domestic steel industry. It is a national asset – and we are proud of it.
As we respond to new threats and Russian aggression, British steel will have an enhanced role in our homeland defences for the years ahead
But today the British steel industry stands at a crossroads, following decades of unsupportive government policy and steel dumping from countries that don’t play by the rules. Britain needs its steel industry and its high time ministers backed British jobs and essential industries now.
To start, the government must ensure that Britain’s steel is deployed in public defence contracts, and in doing so strengthen our defence businesses for the future. It should be a no-brainer that defence procurement, like for the MoD’s Fleet Solid Support Ships programme, should be awarded to British firms using British materials, but currently this is far from a given.
For too long, ministers have failed to ensure defence equipment is built in the UK, and this looks set to continue with the Ministry of Defence’s shipbuilding strategy which was published recently and still failed to include any promise about building ships Britain.
Not only does sourcing locally advance our national security. Buying Britain’s steel supports thousands of jobs, benefits our economy, provides value to the taxpayer and is better for the environment.
We want to see, for the good of our country, as much as possible of our equipment designed and built here. We also need urgent action to support British steelmakers through the worsening energy crisis and help them compete internationally.
Our steelworkers’ union, Community, represents thousands of steelworkers in steel towns like Rotherham, producing world class steels that Britain couldn’t do without. Our steelworkers are the best in the world, highly skilled and passionate about their industry, battle-hardened after years of facing adversity, and ready to continue delivering for their industry and our country.
Britain’s steelworkers have had plenty of warm words from this government, but now they need to see those translate into action. British steel is needed for our national security, for a strong and green economy, and for tens of thousands of jobs across the country.
As we respond to new threats and Russian aggression, British steel will have an enhanced role in our homeland defences for the years ahead. The government should act now to recognise that.
John Healey is the Labour MP for Wentworth and Dearne and shadow secretary of defence. Roy Rickhuss CBE is the General Secretary of Community Trade Union.
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