A war of words over what quitting the EU could mean for the future of Britain’s steel industry and 500 Hartlepool jobs.
Tata Steel employs around 500 people at its plant in the town.
UK Steel director Gareth Stace has claimed Britain is best placed to prevent cheap Chinese steel imports if it remains part of the EU, but North East Ukip MEP Jonathan Arnott hit back, saying the UK would have greater flexibility in tackling the problem if it went solo.
“The future health and competitiveness of the British steel sector is heavily dependent on remaining within the European Union,” said Mr Stace.
“It is highly concerning to hear the myths being peddled by those who wish to leave the EU, opportunistically seizing on the crisis facing our sector.
“The EU is by far the largest market for steel outside of the UK and common sense dictates that it would be folly to break that link while the sector is battling for survival.
“As a huge trading block, the EU has significantly more clout in discussions with China regarding the need to curb over-production and subsidised exports that are proving so damaging to our sector. While it has been suggested a UK free of the shackles of Brussels would be free to implement significant trade tariffs to guard against future dumping of Chinese steel, there is scant evidence the Government would actually do this.
“Indeed the European Commission has been keen to introduce more rigorous measures in this area, but has been prevented from doing so by UK interventions.”
The high cost of energy was a “home grown” problem that could be fixed by the UK Government, he added: “There are many reasons for the UK’s uncompetitive electricity prices and nearly all of them are home grown and can be rectified by the UK Government.
“We only have to look at the significantly lower prices available to German industry to see the truth of this. Indeed, we estimate less than 10 per cent of the policy costs added to electricity prices may be linked to EU energy policy.
“The UK Government has taken significant action in this area, but we stress that it can and should do more - our membership of the EU has no bearing on its ability to do so.”
But Jonathon Arnott said leaving the EU would free Britain to set its own policy on steel imports: “The United States of America has been able to implement a 266 per cent tariff on imported Chinese steel, therefore American workers and companies have been protected,” he said.
“While Britain remains within the European Union, we have to wait for all 28 countries to agree a common position before we are allowed to do the same.”
A Government that failed to act would pay the price, he said: “If the British Government did not look after workers’ interests post-Brexit, then we would rightly kick them out at the ballot box at the next election.
“That is democracy.
“The Remain campaign imply that post Brexit, we would be unable to sell to the European Union, but that is nonsense: outside the European Union, Switzerland exports five times as much per capita as we do.
“Indeed, Remain threatens us with a lower pound but what could boost British exports more than a lower pound?
“Outside the European Union, we would be free to set our own energy policy, which could lead to lower bills, and we would be free to provide support to keep out own steel industry going.”