Boris Johnson's quip about Margaret Thatcher closing coal mines upsets Scots

·3 min read
Boris Johnson onboard the Esvagt Alba during a visit to the Moray Offshore Windfarm
Boris Johnson onboard the Esvagt Alba during a visit to the Moray Offshore Windfarm

Boris Johnson has claimed that Margaret Thatcher gave the UK a head start in its efforts to reduce its carbon emissions by closing "so many coal mines across the country".

Speaking on the second day of a visit to Scotland, he promised a "smooth and sensible" shift from fossil fuels to renewable power and predicted that every home in the country could be powered by wind alone by 2030.

He said that the country had already "transitioned away from coal within my lifetime" before paying tribute to Mrs Thatcher for shutting down coal mines in the Eighties.

He chuckled as he made the remark to journalists during a virtual press conference held during a visit to an offshore wind farm in Moray and commented: "I thought that would get you going."

The Prime Minister also said a second independence referendum was at the bottom of his political agenda as he urged Nicola Sturgeon to focus on Scotland's Covid recovery instead of relaunching her separation campaign.

The SNP said Mr Johnson had shown himself to be "completely out of touch with Scotland" by making "crass jokes" about mines closing. Labour called it a "callous and foolish statement".

The miners' strike, which lasted from 1984 to 1985, took place after Mrs Thatcher announced plans to close pits that were deemed "inefficient".

In Scotland, the flash points included picket lines at the former Ravenscraig steel works in Lanarkshire, and Bilston Glen pit, south of Edinburgh.

Margaret Thatcher at Wistow colliery in the Selby coalfield
Margaret Thatcher at Wistow colliery in the Selby coalfield

Mrs Thatcher later became a passionate advocate for the environment, telling the UN in November 1989 that a major danger to humanity was "the prospect of irretrievable damage to the atmosphere, to the oceans, to Earth itself".

She later recanted, voicing fears that the green agenda had been hijacked by Left-wingers, but her interventions had a huge impact at the time in making climate change a political issue.

The Government is hosting the UN COP 26 climate change conference in Glasgow in November but there is tension on the Tory benches over what targets should be agreed. More than 90 countries are yet to set out new targets.

Mr Johnson acknowledged that limiting temperature rises to below 1.5C, under the terms of the Paris climate deal, was "going to be a tough ambition, this is a difficult thing to achieve".

But 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."

He urged other world leaders to rise to that challenge, saying: "What we won't do, we will not reduce the level of our ambition for COP, in order to set the target, an ambition that we know we can meet.

"I'm going to be as ambitious as possible for COP 26 in Glasgow. I want the world to recognise the extent of the challenge, and I want everybody to try to rise to meet it in the way that I just set out with those ambitions.

"We must, must, must be as ambitious and as tough as possible and that's what we're going to do."

Owen Thompson, SNP MP for Midlothian, said: "There are many families across Scottish communities whose lives still bear the scars of Thatcher’s industrial vandalism. It beggars belief that anyone would joke about that."

The Telegraph disclosed this week that the draft agenda for next month's SNP conference shows party members will be asked to endorse proposals for a new independence push, arguing this is "essential" for Covid recovery.

But the Prime Minister said: "I think that the focus should be on economic recovery and constitutional change is about as far from the top of my agenda as it is possible to be."