British Steel 'could flourish' says Business Secretary Greg Clark despite fears over no-deal Brexit

Greg Clark speaking in the House of Commons Credit: Parliament TV

British Steel could "flourish" despite the SNP's claim the industry could suffer as Boris Johnson has "no plans beyond Brexit no-deal", the Government has said.

Business Secretary Greg Clark told MPs the future success of the business "though not certain, is certainly within grasp", but would require the "active participation" of everyone.

MPs also heard that talks have been going on with the incoming PM to make sure the issue is "at the top of the new Prime Minister's agenda".

Speaking in the Commons, Mr Clark said: "And in particular to whoever stands at this despatch box to devote themselves unstintingly to achieve a great outcome for everyone concerned with British Steel, which I believe, though not certain, is certainly within grasp, and that is the flourishing of British Steel's operations for many years to come."

Mr Clark said that although all decisions are for the official receiver, "I've been active, as members know, in visiting prospective buyers in many parts of the world to make it clear that the UK Government will, within its legal powers, work with a good long-term owner of these important assets to see how we can help them realise their vision for the company".

He was responding to an urgent question from Labour's Anna Turley (Redcar) on the sale of British Steel.

Mr Clark said the British Steel support group, which he chairs, had met eight times.

"The confidence that the support group has built, coupled with a Government indemnity to the official receiver, has allowed trading to continue, orders to be won and production to increase. This is without precedent, in my experience.

"I'm pleased to say that the official receiver has said that he is encouraged by the level of interest in purchasing British Steel and his special managers EY are currently in further discussions with potential buyers.

"The official receiver has made it clear that given the complex nature of the operations any potential sale will take time to deliver."

Mr Clark said there is a "strong future, a strategic future", for the British steel industry, adding: "Not only would the consequences of the loss of historic assets – hugely important in all of the communities that she mentions – not only would that be unconscionable, but actually it would be to lose a substantial opportunity here."

Ms Turley said Mr Clark had stepped in, helped secure the asset, enabled the business to continue and ensured the workforce was paid, adding: "He's given us, through the indemnity that the Government have given to the official receiver, a very, very good chance of ensuring the future for British Steel in this country, so I'd like to put on record my thank you to him."

But she warned "of course the situation does remain precarious", adding: "While we've had in the last few weeks the new Prime Minister running around the country waving kippers in the air, the contrast has been 5,000 dedicated, highly skilled workers in British Steel putting their shoulders to the wheel."

Shadow business secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey said Mr Johnson needed to understand the importance of the steel industry to the UK economy.

She said: "No deal could mean no steel, so can you assure the House you will be taking steps to ensure that the new Prime Minister takes action on these issues urgently and understands the real importance of the steel industry?"

SNP business spokeswoman Marion Fellows said: "In today's global world, the uncertainty caused by Brexit is providing businesses with the nudge they need to leave the UK.

"How many more will leave when it becomes apparent the new Prime Minister has no plans beyond Brexit no-deal?"

Mr Clark said: "I have spoken to both candidates during the leadership contest to impress on them what we agree is the crucial role of this industry."

He said Mr Johnson has been spoken to to "reinforce the resolution across all sides of the House that this is at the top of the new Prime Minister's agenda".