Boris Johnson has been criticised by Nicola Sturgeon and Keir Starmer after he said Margaret Thatcher gave the UK a “big early start” in the fight against climate change when she closed coal mines across the UK.
Scotland’s First Minister said the remarks were “crass” and “deeply insensitive” while Sir Keir said they showed the Prime Minister was “out of touch” with working people.
Johnson made the comments towards the end of a two-day trip north of the border.
He 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% to 80% of all electricity had been coal-generated – with this falling to 40% by the time he became London mayor.
“Since then, it’s gone right down to 1%, or sometimes less,” he stated.
Johnson said: “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.”
Writing on Twitter, Sturgeon condemned the comments.
She said: “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.”
Starmer tweeted: “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 leader in Scotland Anas Sarwar said the remarks were “just another example of why the Tories are a disaster and the biggest threat to the union”.
The party’s energy spokeswoman at Holyrood, Monica Lennon, criticised the PM for “laughing about Thatcher’s pit closures that decimated our mining communities”.
Fellow Labour MSP Neil Bibby said: “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.”
The SNP MP for Midlothian, Owen Thompson, also condemned the Prime Minister.
He said: “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.
“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.”