Prime Minister Boris Johnson recognises the “huge impact and pain” caused by the closure of coal mines following backlash over comments he made in Scotland on Thursday.
Johnson was criticised by Nicola Sturgeon and Sir 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.
He added: “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.”
The Thatcher administration saw the bitter 1984-85 miners’ strike which affected pit communities across the country.
Writing on Twitter, Sturgeon condemned the comments.
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 and deeply insensitive to that reality.”
Sir Keir also 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.”
On Friday, the Prime Minister’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 the Prime Minister would apologise, the spokesman responded: “You’ve got my words there, the Prime Minister recognises the huge impact and pain closing coal mines had in communities across the UK.”