Port Talbot steelworkers showed their class when confronting Business Secretary Sajid Javid, rising above the furore over potential job losses to coolly extract answers from the minister over their future.
Javid was visiting the Tata Steel plant in South Wales for the first time since its Indian owners announced on Tuesday plans to sell off its entire UK business, putting 40,000 jobs at risk.
But Javid, ridiculed for being in Australia as events unfolded, this afternoon met jobs-threatened workers in the Port Talbot plant's car park. In what could have been an angry confrontation given the multiple criticisms levelled at the Government, he told them there will "certainly" be buyers.
Amid strains of “save our steel”, workers calmly and clearly asked the minister a series of questions that put him on the back foot - and teased out more detail than ministers have been willing to reveal so far.
Speaking to a tight huddle, and with Welsh Secretary Alun Cairns at his side, Javid told the steel workers he was "on your side" when it came to trying to find a future for the plant.
One worker asked: "You're are not going to let us go to the wall?"
Javid replied: "I think the time is there, the meetings today have been constructive. With Tata management in India as well they have been very responsible, they have shown in the past as a group that they are a responsible company.
"I take confidence from that and so should you."
Javid said the government would "work with the unions" and the Welsh government to "secure the future" for the industry.
Another worker asked: "Have we got an industry?"
Javid told him: "The industry is absolutely vital to the UK industrial sector, absolutely vital."
Asked if there were any potential buyers for the plant. Javid said he could not name any companies that were "expressing interest" for commercial reasons but "there are people out there".
"There will most certainly be people," he said. "I can’t tell you today who they are, what that is, the process is just beginning."
It came as Sky News reported the Chinese government has announced a tit-for-tat tariff against a type of high-tech steel produced in South Wales.
David Cameron has also been accused of helping China at the steel industry’s expense by vetoing increases on tariffs being pushed by the EU.
China’s decision will be seen as retaliation for the EU trying to halt China “dumping” cheap steel on the European market, and undermining British firms.
The meeting with Port Talbot bosses and union leaders followed:
- Javid spending 34 hours Down Under but a total of 45 hours in the airgetting between the UK and Australia.
- His 16-year-old daughter, Sophia, joining him on the trip as he was expected to turn the visit into a family holiday in the country after his official engagements were over.
- While in Australia, the minister gave a speech lauding free trade - unfortunate given the demise of steel in the UK as a result at least in part of China “dumping” cheap steel.
- Javid and his ministers have had nine meetings with steel industry representatives since May - but 12 meetings with Chinese businesses, despite China being blamed for undercutting UK steel prices.
After a series a meetings behind closed doors, Javid told Sky News that he had “rushed back” from Australia after being “concerned” the timeframe of the sale was shorter than anticipated.
And he dismissed suggestions the UK Government is not doing enough to stop cheap Chinese imports: "The UK has been the leader in the EU of getting tariffs imposed where there is evidence of dumping."
Critics will point to previous comments where he said higher tariffs on Chinese steel would damage other UK firms reliant on it.
The pictures below show the reception the Secretary of State receive from workers in South Wales.