For a number of reasons, I don’t think I would have predicted a year ago that this blog would ever feature a speech by Jeremy Corbyn. But we live in unusual times.
In his speech today calling for the UK to vote to stay in the EU (full text available here), he said this about State aid: –
Take the crisis in the steel industry. It’s a global problem and a challenge to many European governments. So why is it only the British Government that has failed so comprehensively to act to save steel production at home?
The European Commission proposed new tariffs on Chinese steel, but it was the UK Government that blocked these co-ordinated efforts to stop Chinese steel dumping.
Those proposals are still on the table. So today I ask David Cameron and George Osborne to to start sticking up for British steel and work with our willing European partners to secure its future.
There are certainly problems about EU state aid rules, which need reform. But if as the Leave side argues, it is the EU that is the main problem, how is that Germany, Italy, France and Spain have all done so much better at protecting their steel industries?
It is because those countries have acted within EU state aid rules to support their industries; whether through taking a public stake, investing in research and development, providing loan guarantees or compensating for energy costs.
It is not the EU that is the problem, but a Conservative Government here in Britain that doesn’t recognise the strategic importance of steel, for our economy and for the jobs and skills in those communities.
The Conservative Government has blocked action on Chinese steel dumping. It has cut investment in infrastructure that would have created demand for more steel and had no procurement strategy to support British steel.
A Labour government would have worked with our partners across Europe to stand up for steel production in Britain.
The European Union – 28 countries and 520 million people – could have made us stronger, by defending our steel industries together. The actions of the Conservative Government weakened us.
Readers will have their own views on his criticism of the Government, and it is certainly not clear what State aid law reforms he is calling for. But what he says is not inconsistent with my own views on the State aid aspects of the Tata issue and the question of Brexit, which I set out in an earlier blog. What one can say with certainty is that State aid law is no longer a quiet backwater which no one apart from a few geeks much cares about.
George Peretz QC