Ministers dealt another blow to the British steel industry today by admitting they will use foreign metal to build new Royal Navy support ships.
The Government also dropped its heaviest hint yet it will build three vital Fleet Solid Support ships for the Royal Fleet Auxiliary in an overseas yard.
It is the latest Tory betrayal of Britain’s dedicated defence and steelworkers and comes after Theresa May used the G7 summit to attack Donald Trump’s move to slap 25% tariffs on steel imports to the US, including from Britain.
Defence Minister Guto Bebb said that while warships had to be built in the UK “other ships are open to international competition”.
The Ministry of Defence does not class the RFA ships as warships – despite the fact they could go to war supporting aircraft carriers, destroyers and frigates, and are also armed with guns.
And Mr Bebb admitted foreign steel would be used to construct the vessels because British plants to do not make the specific type needed.
But under-pressure producers have consistently said they could supply the metal if they were told far enough in advance.
Community steelworkers’ union general secretary Roy Rickhuss said: “Our Navy deserves the best in the world, and that means building our ships with British steel.
“We hear a lot from government about supporting steelworkers, but those words mean nothing if they pass up opportunities like this to support their industry.
“A long term industrial strategy would mean that British steelmakers are equipped to take full advantage of future opportunities.”
The Mirror has told how a string of bumper military contracts have been awarded to foreign firms, including importing steel for Royal Navy vessels.
Shadow Steel Minister Gill Furniss pressed the Tories to commit to backing UK industry during defence questions in the Commons.
“The Government has often used EU rules as an excuse for not buying British steel for big defence projects,” she said.
She called on the Government to “guarantee that post-Brexit Royal Navy support ships and similar projects will use 100% British steel”.
But Defence Minister Guto Bebb shrugged off the plea, claiming: “I wish I could offer that guarantee but it’s not possible to offer the guarantee because the steel required for parts of the ship that we are building is not currently available from the UK.”
Using British steel risked building faults into the vessels, he told MPs.
Labour would “be the first to complain if we had defects in our capability as a result of buying incorrect steel”, he added.
Calling for the Government to build the ships in Britain, Labour’s former Defence Minister John Spellar fumed that small and medium-sized businesses relied on bigger companies handing them contracts.
Branding the Government’s position on the Fleet Solid Support ships “so disappointing”, Mr Spellar fumed: “Can you imagine our European G7 partners, let alone President Trump, buying Navy support ships from foreign yards?
Calling on Defence Ministers to “shake off Treasury dogma”, he demanded they “wake up to European reality, buy British ships built in British shops by British workers, backing British engineering large and small – and also backing British steel”.
Labour backbencher Mike Amesbury said the contract for the RFA vessels “has the potential to bring jobs and work to shipyards across the UK”.
Calling on the Conservatives to make the competition for the £1billion deal a “UK-only one”, he added: “These ships should be built in Britain.”