The Business and Trade Secretary has faced criticism over her “undermining” comments about the future of the steel industry.
Kemi Badenoch, asked on Sky News whether the UK “come what may would always need to have a steel industry”, said: “Nothing is ever a given.”
In the interview conducted during her trip to Italy, the Cabinet minister said there was a “bigger picture around steel beyond just saving this particular company or helping this particular community”.
Having only been appointed on Tuesday to head the newly created Department for Business and Trade, Ms Badenoch said she needed to “sit down and look at what exactly has been going on with steel from a business perspective and an industry perspective”.
Stephen Kinnock, MP for Aberavon, home to the country’s biggest steelworks, called on the Business Secretary to apologise to steelwork businesses and communities.
But Downing Street defended Ms Badenoch, arguing that the quote being criticised did not reflect the entirety of her sentiments on the steel industry.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “As you’ve seen from her full quote, she made clear that we recognise the importance that steel plays in the economy.
“She said we are working across Whitehall; having the policy sit in one department makes a difference; she wants to look at it both from the international trade perspective, as she has done before, and look at what is going on domestically.”
The spokesman said ministers were “committed to securing a decarbonised, sustainable and competitive future for the UK steel sector”.
Labour shadow business secretary Jonathan Reynolds said: “Comments like this show how out of touch and lacking in ambition the Conservatives are for British industry.
“Labour will partner with the steel industry to deliver green steel and keep jobs in the UK for decades to come.”
Mr Kinnock, chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Steel, said: “In this turbulent world, we cannot rely on importing steel from countries that do not have Britain’s best interests at heart.
“Kemi Badenoch is a Brexit supporter, but she clearly doesn’t believe in strengthening Britain’s ability to stand on its own two feet, given that failing to support Britain’s steel industry would be a hammer blow to our sovereign capability.
“Her words are also a kick in the teeth for firms determined to transition to green steel, and for the tens of thousands of steelworkers, their families and communities who are reliant on these well-paid, meaningful jobs.
“She should withdraw this comment and apologise to the steelworkers who rightly expect the Business Secretary to be fighting their corner, rather than actively undermining their proud commitment to this critically important foundation industry.”
The row follows a recent intervention by the UK Government to save jobs at a British Steel plant in Scunthorpe.
Business minister Nusrat Ghani criticised the timing of the announcement, which is said to potentially impact 800 jobs at the factory, telling MPs last week that a “generous package of support” is under discussion with the Chinese-owned manufacturing company.
The company, owned by the Chinese Jingye Group, plans to cut hundreds of jobs in plans to close its coke ovens in Scunthorpe, and will “optimise” several hundred more, a union source has said.
British Steel employs about 4,000 people across the UK.