Sajid Javid has admitted the Government was informed about the possible sale of Tata Steel's UK steelworks "a few weeks ago" - yet he still left the country on a trade mission to Australia.
The Business Secretary said he was caught by surprise by Tata's decision to "go that far" in an announcement on Wednesday following a board meeting in Mumbai.
Mr Javid also refused to rule out nationalising the loss-making UK steel business being sold by Tata Steel, including the major works at Port Talbot.
The UK Government could step in to “offer support” to the 4,000 Tata Steel workers at the factory in south Wales, which loses nearly £1 million a day, he said.
And he told the Andrew Marr Show: "What we actually knew was that it was an important meeting. But when they made the announcement we didn't anticipate they would go that far.
"The strength of the announcement and how far they went - particularly what they said about timing - was much further than we expected."
David Cameron appeared to rule out even temporary nationalisation of the steelworks after emergency talks with ministers on Thursday.
But Mr Javid said he would not “rule out anything at this stage”, adding that the government could intervene to cover some costs, including pensions, to make it easier for Tata to find a buyer.
He said he believed nationalisation was “rarely the answer in these situations”.
“I don’t think nationalisation is a solution to this,” he said. “Having said that I also think it wouldn’t be prudent to rule anything out at this stage.”
Mr Javid said it could be a period of months before a new owner could be found to take over the Port Talbot steelworks.
“We will look at everything we can do to allow a sale going ahead and I wouldn’t rule out anything at this stage,” he said.
Mr Javid said that Tata accepted that finalising any deal would take time.
"They know it is not just a matter of weeks. When they talk about weeks, that's the period you would take to get so-called expressions of interest. Then it will take much longer than that to work out a deal," he said.
The Government's aim, he said, was to find a buyer for the whole of Tata's UK business.
"I want to see steelmaking continuing in Port Talbot, I want to protect as many jobs as possible, I want to find a buyer for the whole of the business," he said.
Mr Javid indicated the Government was ready to provide further assistance with reducing the energy costs of running Port Talbot.
"Any potential investor would want to see movement on that," he said.
He also suggested the Government could help with the costs of the pension scheme - which dates back to the former nationalised British Steel.
"No-one is talking about nationalisation of pension schemes but it is something I absolutely recognise is a challenge," he said.
Additional reporting by agencies
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