A shipbuilding blueprint to boost the Royal Navy will offer no guarantees over using British steel, the Mirror understands.
Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon today unveils a National Shipbuilding Strategy, outlining plans for the first batch of £250million Type 31e frigates.
But it is thought the landmark document will stop short of pledging to buy UK metal for the new ships.
It would be the latest Tory snub to British manufacturers after a string of bumper defence deals chose cheap foreign imports over homegrown metal.
And supporters of Britain’s steel industry are set to demand to know why no guarantees are on the table.
Shadow Defence Secretary Nia Griffith said: “We all want to see a secure future for Britain’s world-class shipbuilding industry and real investment in our Royal Navy after years of neglect.
Shadow Defence Secretary Nia Griffith hit out at the latest betrayal (Image: PA)
“But for all the Government’s talk of backing British industry, it is an absolute scandal that the Conservatives still cannot guarantee that the new Type 31 frigates will be built with British steel.
“This is a missed opportunity to provide certainty to the British steel industry and it reflects the Tories’ complete lack of commitment to the UK manufacturing sector.”
The strategy says the Government would “forecast steel requirements for shipbuilding” so suppliers have the time and notice to supply suitable products.
And it stresses “we are working hard to ensure that where we can, we source British steel”.
But it does not commit to buying British.
A senior Ministry of Defence source said. “We will build these warships in the UK and wherever we practically can, we will buy British steel.
“We will work with industry so they can supply as much of the warships as possible.”
The Type 23 Duke-class frigates are gradually being replaced with a mixture of Type 26 and Type 31e ships (Image: Press Association)
Officials say today’s document will “outline an ambition to transform the procurement of naval ships, make the UK’s maritime industry more competitive, grow the Royal Navy fleet by the 2030s, export British ships overseas, and boost innovation, skills, jobs, and productivity across the UK”.
The Ministry of Defence added that “in line with standing UK policy on warships they will be built in the UK”.
But it failed to say they would use exclusively British materials.
Shipyards “will be encouraged to work with global partners to ensure the vessel is competitive on the export market”, the MoD added.
The Type 31e will be designed to appeal to foreign navies and has the suffix “e” to stress it will be marketed for “export”.
Today’s strategy comes nine months after a 23-page report into shipbuilding by industrialist Sir John Parker was blasted for failing to even mention the word “steel”.
Sir John Parker drew up a report for the Government in the run-up to its National Shipbuilding Strategy
Welcoming today’s strategy, he said last night: “The next challenge is to come up with a world-leading (Type 31e) design; one that can satisfy the needs of the Royal Navy and the export market.
“We have the capability to do that, the will is there and it is a tremendous opportunity for UK shipbuilding.
“I see no reason why industry will not rise to that challenge.”
The five vessels will join the Fleet from 2023 and sail alongside the Type 26 frigates currently being built with Swedish steel.
The Type 26 frigates are being built with mainly foreign steel (Image: PA)
But the Type 31 design will be smaller, cheaper and less powerful than the other ships.
Together, the two varieties will replace 13 ageing Duke-class vessels.
Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon said: “Backed up by a commitment to spend billions on new ships, our plan will help boost jobs, skills, and growth in shipyards and the supply chain across the UK.”
The Mirror, which is campaigning to Save Our Steel, previously told how British metal has been snubbed for a series of new Navy ships.
Sir Michael cut French steel for the Royal Navy’s Dreadnought fleet of nuclear-armed Trident submarines (Image: PA, Rex)
The MoD admitted last year how 4,000 tonnes of steel for Royal Feet Auxiliary refuelling tankers were being sourced from South Korea.
And of the 82,000 tonnes of steel bought for the two Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers, 4,500 came from Turkey and 500 from Spain.
We revealed it had been imported from France , with French metal used to build the hulls.