PM refuses to apologise for "callous" remarks about Thatcher closing coal mines

6 August 2021, 19:47 | Updated: 6 August 2021, 19:52

Boris Johnson recognises pain of coal mine closures, but does not apologise, spokesman says.
Boris Johnson recognises pain of coal mine closures, but does not apologise, spokesman says. Picture: Alamy

By Sophie Barnett

Boris Johnson recognises the "huge impact and pain" caused by coal mines shutting, Downing Street said as aides attempted to limit the damage caused by his comments about Thatcher-era pit closures.

The Prime Minister was slammed by politicians in Scotland earlier this week for his "callous" and "unbelievably crass" comments, where he claimed Margaret Thatcher had given the UK a "big early start" in the fight against climate change when she axed coal mines across the UK in the 1980s.

Read more: Boris Johnson sparks backlash for 'callous' comments over Thatcher mine closures

He was condemned by Labour, the SNP and the Scottish Greens for the remarks, made towards the end of a two-day trip north of the border.

Number 10 declined to apologise for his comments but said Mr Johnson understands the suffering of former mining communities.

The PM's official spokesman told reporters: "The Prime Minister recognises the huge impact and pain closing coal mines had in communities across the UK.

"This Government has an ambitious plan to tackle the critical issue of climate change, which includes reducing reliance on coal and other non-renewable energy sources.

"During the visit the Prime Minister pointed to the huge progress already made in the UK transitioning away from coal and towards cleaner forms of energy, and our commitment to supporting people and industries on that transition."

Asked if Mr Johnson will apologise, the spokesman said: "You've got my words there, the Prime Minister recognises the huge impact and pain closing coal mines had in communities across the UK."

Labour demanded an immediate apology, with party leader Sir Keir Starmer saying the comments were "a slap in the face" for communities still suffering.

SNP MP Owen Thompson said: "Yet again, Boris Johnson has shown himself to be completely out of touch with Scotland by making unbelievably crass jokes about Margaret Thatcher's damaging legacy.

"The Thatcher years might have been a spiffing time for Johnson, who was busy partying in the elite Bullingdon Club, but in the real world Thatcher devastated communities across Scotland."

Mr Johnson made the remarks as he was pressed on whether he would set a deadline for ending fossil fuel extraction.

He hailed existing action to move to greener forms of power, stating when he was a child 70 per cent to 80 per cent of all electricity had been coal-generated - with this falling to 40 per cent by the time he became London mayor.

"Since then, it's gone right down to 1 per cent, or sometimes less," he stated.

He went on: "Look at what we've done already. We've transitioned away from coal in my lifetime.

"Thanks to Margaret Thatcher, who closed so many coal mines across the country, we had a big early start and we're now moving rapidly away from coal altogether."

Sir Keir said the Prime Minister has "shown his true colours yet again".

"I'm proud to have always stood with our coalfield communities. I represented the miners in court as the Tories tried to close the pits," he said.

"These communities contributed so much to the success of our country, and then were abandoned.

"The Tories didn't care then, and they don't care now."