The five things you need to know on Wednesday March 30, 2016…
Paul is on holiday. So this morning's WaughZone is written by Owen Bennett.
1) PORT IN A STORM
It wasn’t quite the worst possible news from Mumbai for British steel, but it came pretty close. A meeting of the Tata Steel board ended with the decision to flog all of its UK assets, including the steel works in Port Talbot, South Wales. It will also affect workers in Rotherham, Corby and Shotton. That means roughly 15,000 workers in the UK face an uncertain future.
In a statement, Tata argued trading conditions had “rapidly deteriorated” in the UK, and blamed a global oversupply of steel, an increase in ‘third country’ exports (i.e. China) and high manufacturing costs.
Aberavon MP Stephen Kinnock, who is over in Mumbai, had a two-hour meeting with the chief financial officer of Tata Steel ahead of the crunch talks, which he described to me as a “full and frank exchange”. I’m pretty sure that means voices were raised.
After the announcement, he tried to strike an optimistic note, saying the decision “certainly wasn’t the worst case scenario”.
That was echoed by Roy Rickhuss, the General Secretary of the steelworkers union Community, who said: “Our worst fear that Tata would announce plant closures today has not been realised.”
Expect the Brexiters to seize on the part of Tata's statement which complained about the “restrictions of State Aid Rules”. Even before the decision, Conservative MP for Corby Tom Pursglove – one of the founders of Grassroots Out – said “important financial support was held up for months as a direct result of slow EU state aid processes, despite UK Ministers constantly pressing the need for urgent action.”
It’s funny how these free-market, Thatcher-idolising MPs look to state-intervention when there are jobs at risk in their own constituencies.
2) STEEL CRAZY AFTER ALL THESE YEARS
All eyes are now on the UK government to see how it will assist the beleaguered steel industry.
It was reported this morning that the Government is holding urgent talks with Tata to try and keep Port Talbot steelworks open.
ITV’s deputy political editor Chris Ship was tweeting last night that “nationalisation – or something like it – is on the cards” and that the Government had “gamed” for such a development.
On the Today programme this morning, the BBC’s Assistant Political Editor Norman Smith said the Government was looking at a “workforce/management buyout” led by the unions and managers.
Appearing on the same programme, Business Minister Anna Soubry indicated the Government could step in to keep the steelworks going while a buyer is found.
She said: “I want to be absolutely clear about what Tata mean when they talk about it’s time bound.
She added: “We want enough time to be able to secure a buyer.”
When asked about whether the Government could step in to take control of the Port Talbot steelworks, Soubry said: “That’s an option, we have looked at all the options.”
She then added: “I don’t know if ‘own’ would be the right word.”
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn urged the Government to “intervene immediately to protect UK jobs and British manufacturing”, while Unite General Secretary Len McLuskey accused the Tories of “dithering over intervention.”
If you're wondering why it's junior minister Anna Soubry on the airwaves this morning and not Business Secretary Sajid Javid...well, he is on his way to Australia.
Javid is due to appear at the Sydney Institutes Annual Dinner today and address Australia’s British Chamber of Commerce tomorrow.
His no-show in India yesterday didn’t go down well with those from the UK who had actually flown over to Mumbai, with Kinnock saying: “This is deeply disappointing but not surprising. It reflects their abject failure to lift a finger for the British steel industry since 2010. They would rather just roll out the red carpet to China.”
The PM’s Official Spokeswoman told lobby journalists yesterday that Tata had not invited any UK minister over for the talks, but don’t expect that excuse to hold much weight with those who believe the Government should have been doing more to stick up for the steel industry.
3) IF EU CAN’T BEAT THEM
For all the talk of the Remainers chucking around 'Project Fear' like cheap aftershave, Brexiters aren’t averse to splashing it on themselves.
In a speech today, Justice Minister Dominic Raab will argue that EU freedom of movement laws forces the UK to “import risk”.
Citing Europol research, he claims there are 5,000 people in Europe who have visited Islamic State training camps, and “in most countries outside the EU, you can bet that individuals flagged in this way would not waltz through passport control without these doubts or question marks being answered or assuaged.”
While he may have a point on mainland Europe, the UK does still have passport checks at its border as it is not part of Schengen.
Sir David Omand, the former director of GCHQ, disagrees with Raab, and argues “The UK would be the loser in security terms from Brexit not the gainer.”
The security argument in the referendum debate was barely on the table a few years ago, but now both sides are desperately trying to outdo each other on safety.
Meanwhile, former Cabinet Secretary Lord O'Donnell said the UK would struggle to negotiate a good deal from the EU within two years if it voted to leave. He claimed other European countries would not want to give a good deal to the UK for fear of stoking up anti-EU parties in their own backyards.
4) DONALD DUCKS ON NOMINEE PLEDGE
Over in the States, it was another eventful day in the hallucinogenic-trip-made-reality campaign of Donald Trump.
It began with Hillary Clinton wading into the row over whether Trump’s campaign manager grabbed a reporter.
While stopping short of calling for Trump to fire Corey Lewandowski – who has been charged with battery after allegedly grabbing former Breitbart journalist Michelle Fields - she did say: “What Donald Trump has been doing these last months is inciting violent behavior and aggressive behavior that I think is very dangerous and has resulted in attacks on people at his events and this charge that was brought against his campaign manager.”
At a Republican town hall event in Milwaukee, Trump defended his employee, saying the reporter was grabbing him and Lewandowski was just protecting his boss.
He also went on to row back on his pledge to support any of the other Republican nominees should he fail to get selected. Who knows, maybe not having the endorsement of Trump will actually help the Republican candidate.
There were also reports that a 15-year-old anti-Trump protester was pepper-sprayed after throwing a punch while picketing outside a speech by the candidate yesterday.
So something for everyone there.
BECAUSE YOU’VE READ THIS FAR: Watch this gorilla go ape at a window in a zoo.
Both The Times and The Telegraph splash over tighter rules for mortgage lending to buy-to-let landlords this morning. The Times claims thousands of would-be landlords face being “snubbed by lenders” as the Bank of England introduces tougher rules on eligibility for mortgages.
The new criteria would include assessing how an interest rate rise to 5.5% from today’s level of 0.5% would impact on the landlord’s ability to pay back the mortgage.
The move comes amid fears the market is overheating, with demand hitting a 12-year high last month.
In the Telegraph, Andrew Bailey, a Deputy Governor at the Bank of England, warned that people investing in bricks and mortar for their retirement could be left in financial difficulties if the house price bubble burst.
Of course, the rise in buy-to-let mortgage applications could be canny investors trying to beat the three percentage point increase in stamp duty, set to come into force on Friday.
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