Issue 10 Backs Kwasi Kwarteng in Conflict with Treasury Over Business Aid – Politics Live | Politics
Hello. There is never a good time for a Prime Minister to take a vacation, but some times are worse than others, and Boris Johnson is in Marbella in southern Spain at a time when the energy crisis is pressing. still raging, and one of his ministers has been on the air denying plans for a move to a four-day week. (Younger readers may not get the reference, but in the 1970s the Heath government briefly ordered factories to operate only three days a week due to a national energy shortage.)
Last month the focus was on what rising gas prices would mean for home heating bills, but now the government is concerned about the impact on the industry as sectors that consume large amounts of gas. Energy in the production process, such as steel, warn that they may have factories shut down soon because their operating costs are too high. These producers have asked the government for help, but so far nothing has been done and yesterday Kwasi Kwarteng, the business secretary, was reprimanded by the Treasury when he said he was already in talks with the Chancellor about some kind of bailout.
Further talks between the sector and the government are taking place today.
This morning Gareth Stace, the CEO of British steel, the trade body for steel producers, said Johnson shouldn’t have chosen to go on vacation now. He told LBC:
I am on [Johnson] can phone them and talk to them but in my opinion this is not the time for a prime minister to be on vacation, from a steel industry point of view …
This is a critical moment. The business secretary also said that this is a critical situation, so why is the government just sitting idly by and doing absolutely nothing at this time?
From my point of view, today, with the reported government infighting between the Treasury and the BEIS [the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy], the Prime Minister must now bump into cabinet heads, take control and remember that if he does nothing, then his ambition to scale up will remain in tatters.
Stace argued that the race to the top was in danger because many energy-intensive industries maintain many well-paying jobs in the north of England.
Here are some of the other lines from this morning on this story.
- Damian Hinds, the Minister of Security, defended the Prime Minister’s right to take vacations. He told Sky News:
I wouldn’t want to overestimate the amount of rest and relaxation you have to do as Prime Minister because, as I say, you are constantly in touch, you are constantly informed and you remain in charge of the government …
What is important to the rest of us in fact, to the whole country, is that the Prime Minister can spend time with his family, take a break.
- Hinds said the government will not institute a four-day week. He told Sky:
We live in a country where the government does not define the model of the work week. Thank goodness we don’t live in the 1970s.
- Stace urged the government to follow Italy’s lead, where the Italian government has cut some of the extra costs added to industrial consumers’ energy bills. He said:
We are asking about the same thing because when the government says “We are not going to bail out”, that is not what we are asking.
What we are asking is: ‘Hey Government, we have been telling you for a decade that your policies add something like £ 55million that we pay in the UK, as a steel industry, that our competitors, say, in Germany do not ‘pay.’ Historically, this places us at a competitive disadvantage.
- The Chemical Industries Association has warned that some of its members may have to close factories soon unless they get help paying their energy bills.
- Mark Harper, a former Conservative chief whip, has said he will oppose a sweeping bailout for heavily energy-dependent producers. Last night on the BBC’s Westminster Hour show, he explained:
My judgment on the energy market is that the high level of gas prices looks set to continue for a considerable period of time. So you’re not talking about helping these companies for a few weeks. It is potentially the taxpayer, that is to say the people who listen to this program, who have to pay potentially very large sums throughout the next year. You need to be very careful before making these financial commitments on behalf of taxpayers.
Normally the Commons would be back on the Monday after party conference season, but this week is on vacation (a happy coincidence for the prime minister), so the newspaper seems relatively light. But we’ll have a briefing in the Downing Street lobby at 11:30 a.m.
I am trying to monitor the comments below the line (BTL) but it is impossible to read them all. If you have a straightforward question, include “Andrew” somewhere and I’m more likely to find it. I try to answer the questions, and if they are of general interest, I will post the question and answer over the line (ATL), although I can’t promise to do this for everyone.
If you want to get my attention quickly, it’s probably best to use Twitter. I’m on it @AndrewSparrow.
Alternatively, you can email me at [email protected]