Why is the government giving £45m to Roman Abramovich while letting a British steelworks go to the wall?

Although regulations around steel make it hard to intervene, a way could be found to preserve jobs at the Teesside plant.

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Monday: Sahaviriya Steel Industries (SSI) announces it will mothball the steelworks in Redcar, resulting in the direct loss of 1,700 jobs. As a result of the low price of steel, SSI will cease producing steel on Teesside, although Andy McDonald, the MP for Middlesbrough, estimates that job losses could be as high as 9,000 once the impact is felt along the steelworks' supply chain, with contractors and suppliers on course to be hit hard.

Wednesday: The government announces a loan of £45m – to Evraz, a steel-making and mining company owned by Roman Abramovich, the Russian oligarch. It has operations in the Ukraine, Canada, the United States, and Russia. 

Why isn't the government stepping in to rescue jobs in Redcar? Government subsidy of the steel industry is tightly regulated by the European Union because overproduction of steel by heavily-subsidised national champions, resulting in crashes in the price – has been a persistent problem within the European economy. (That's also why closing down Trident manufacturing in Barrow and replacing it with alternative, well-paying work, is not as easy as it often sounds – the government has more leeway to subsidise jobs for defence than it does industries that compete on the global market, which is why the three unions who represent its workers remain opposed to scrapping the submarine.) 

However, other European governments have persistently found ways round these regulations, with the Italian government heavily subsidising its steel industry under the guise of funding "environmental protection". And as David Cameron's choice to use the international aid budget to rehouse refugees here in Britain shows, the British government isn't opposed to fiddling the rules when it suits. It comes back to the central problem of the government's industrial policy: they have a plan to mortgage increasingly large chunks of Britain to China. They don't have a plan to retain the top academics or to maintain British industrial capacity.

Stephen Bush is political editor of the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.

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