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

5 August 2021, 19:05 | Updated: 5 August 2021, 19:37

Boris Johnson said the UK had an "early start" with moving away from coal "thanks to Margaret Thatcher"
Boris Johnson said the UK had an "early start" with moving away from coal "thanks to Margaret Thatcher". Picture: Alamy

By Daisy Stephens

Boris Johnson has been slammed by politicians in Scotland for his "callous" and "unbelievably crass" comments after 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.

The Prime Minister 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.

Mr Johnson was pressed on whether he would set a deadline for ending fossil fuel extraction as he visited a giant wind farm off the coast of Scotland.

The Prime Minister 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.

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"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."

Afterwards 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.

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"There are many families across Scottish communities whose lives still bear the scars of Thatcher's industrial vandalism. It beggar's belief that anyone would joke about that."

The MP added: "Johnson's trip has been a disaster from start to finish. He has confirmed every worst stereotype of a Westminster Tory Prime Minister toward Scotland - arrogant, out-of-touch, elitist and patronising."

Monica Lennon, Labour's energy spokeswoman at Holyrood, hit out at the PM for "laughing about Thatcher's pit closures that decimated our mining communities"

And fellow Labour MSP Neil Bibby said: "This is a callous and foolish statement from the Prime Minister. They really are the same old Tory party.

"It's clear that the Prime Minister has no understanding at all of the damage done by the closure of the mines.

"To attempt to turn one of the most divisive and destructive periods in British history into a retrospective victory for the environment is deeply offensive to the people and communities who faced considerable hardship and misery."

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Scottish Greens Central Scotland MSP Gillian Mackay said: "Thatcher's decimation of the coal industry had absolutely nothing to do with environmentalism and everything to do with her despicable anti-trade union ideology.

"Communities across Scotland were decimated by these cruel and vindictive policies which destroyed industry and left workers high and dry.

"It's no surprise that Boris Johnson eulogises Thatcher, but we must ensure his government don't repeat her actions as Scotland begins to transition from oil and gas to our renewables future.

"The Scottish Greens won't allow the Tories to repeat the mistakes of the past. We will fight for a fair transition for workers that sees their jobs guaranteed in the sustainable industries of the future."