Sir Keir Starmer and Nicola Sturgeon have led criticism of Boris Johnson after he said Margaret Thatcher gave the UK a “big early start” in its battle against climate change when she closed coal mines in the 1980s.
The prime minister made the comment during a visit to Scotland, when he was asked if he would set a deadline for ending fossil fuel extraction.
“Look at what we’ve done already. We’ve transitioned away from coal in my lifetime,” he said.
“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.”
According to the Daily Record, the prime minister laughed when he made the reference to Mrs Thatcher, whose time in Downing Street (1979-90) featured the miners’ strike of 1984-5.
Mr Johnson is reported to have added: “I thought that would get you going.”
The prime minister’s Thatcher comment drew quick condemnation from opposition parties and Ms Sturgeon, Scotland’s first minister.
In a tweet she said: “Lives and communities in Scotland were utterly devastated by Thatcher’s destruction of the coal industry (which had zero to do with any concern she had for the planet).
“To treat that as something to laugh about is crass & deeply insensitive to that reality.”
Lives & communities in Scotland were utterly devastated by Thatcher’s destruction of the coal industry (which had zero to do with any concern she had for the planet). To treat that as something to laugh about is crass & deeply insensitive to that reality. https://t.co/QY0Y59UO3K
— Nicola Sturgeon (@NicolaSturgeon) August 5, 2021
Labour leader Sir Keir said: “Boris Johnson’s shameful praising of Margaret Thatcher’s closure of the coal mines, brushing off the devastating impact on those communities with a laugh, shows just how out of touch he is with working people.”
Labour’s shadow foreign secretary Lisa Nandy said the remark was “shameful” and “reveal the Conservative Party’s utter disregard for the communities still scarred by Thatcher’s closure of mines”.
Monica Lennon, the party’s energy spokeswoman at the Scottish Parliament, criticised Mr Johnson for “laughing about Thatcher’s pit closures that decimated our mining communities”.
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.
Analysis by Jon Craig, chief political correspondent
Some of Margaret Thatcher’s most passionate supporters claim that sounding an early warning on climate change is her forgotten legacy. Maybe.
It’s true that she made a major speech at the United Nations in 1989 warning of the looming threat of global warming.
But Boris Johnson’s suggestion that it was her motivation for shutting the coal mines in the 1980s is ridiculous.
Don’t forget that in her year-long battle with the militant NUM leader Arthur Scargill in 1984-85 she called the miners “the enemy within”.
And because it’s reported that the prime minister laughed when he made his controversial claim in an off-camera briefing with print journalists during his Scottish visit, he clearly knows it’s ridiculous too.
It’s revealing that the journalists present claim that as well as laughing the prime minister said to them: “I knew that would get you going.”
There was instant outrage from the PM’s political opponents.
But top Tories will worry more about the reaction in the Red Wall constituencies in the north of England, snatched from Labour in the 2019 election, which were blighted by pit closures in the ’80s.
“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.”
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.”