PASSIONS flared between the region’s MPs today (Thursday) in a red hot debate to prevent the end of steelmaking on Teesside.

James Wharton, Northern Powerhouse Minister, was branded by Labour’s Tom Blenkinsop as “pathetic” after he snubbed an emergency all-party Commons debate on the steel crisis, which threatens more than 9,000 North-East jobs.

“I am having to control my anger towards an MP (James Wharton) who is supposed to represent my community and the people from my area,” said Mr Blenkinsop, Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland.

The Northern Echo: 'Pathetic' Powerhouse minister slammed for snubbing steel crisis talks
James Wharton and Tom Blenkinsop exchanged tweets during the debate yesterday

Mr Wharton, MP for Stockton South, drew a furious response from his fellow Tees MPs when he dismissed the debate as “showboating” in a Twitter message where he insisted he was on his way up to Teesside “actually doing things”.

Mr Wharton declined to tell The Northern Echo what those things were.

Amid the war of words, as Middlesbrough Labour MP Andy McDonald urged Mr Wharton to “grow up”, steel minister Anna Soubry pledged to host an emergency summit in the coming days as she agreed the industry was “in crisis”.

During the three hour debate, Ms Soubry faced calls for the Government to take urgent action that would prevent debt-ridden SSI, which runs Redcar steelworks, from entering administration, and support North-East steel firm Tata.

Thai-owned SSI has been hit by a drop in the price of steel this year from $500 to less than $300 a tonne; dumping of cut price Chinese exports, and a heavy tax burden. This has left SSI struggling to repay bank loans and creditors, leading to mounting fears the plant, which was rescued from closure in 2010, is again on the verge of collapse.

Anna Turley, the town’s MP who led yesterday’s debate, pleaded for a Government bail-out, as she said: “We have already experienced the devastation of losing our plant and we cannot go through that again.

“In desperation, I ask the Minister to consider the request for financial assistance from SSI UK, so that wages can continue to be paid and we can get to the 50,000 tonnes of cargo that, as we speak, is sitting on the dock a mile down the road from the blast furnace.

“We need such assistance so that the gas can keep pumping, the coal can load the furnace, workers can pay their mortgages and feed their families, and the proud tradition of steelmaking in Redcar can remain the beating heart of my constituency.”

Ms Soubry, the great, great granddaughter of a Sheffield steel craftsman, was praised by all sides of the house for taking seriously the industry crisis. But she rebuffed demands for state money as she said it would break EU rules.

After discussing the crisis with the Prime Minister and Chancellor of the Exchequer earlier this week, Ms Soubry pledged the steel summit would "happen quickly", but unions fear it could come too late.

Roy Rickhuss, General Secretary of steel union Community, said: “More warm words from government will be cold comfort to our members, their families and communities, who have increasing concerns about the future of their industry. The time for delay is over. The government must reflect quickly, then act, on the issues and the urgency that were so clearly and passionately articulated by MPs from all sides during today’s debate. UK steel needs government action now.”

North-East MEP Jonathan Arnott said the future of Tees steel was a big test for the Government’s ‘Northern Powerhouse plan to revive the regional economy.