Boris Johnson criticised after joking that Margaret Thatcher helped climate by closing coal mines

Boris Johnson criticised after joking that Margaret Thatcher helped climate by closing coal mines

Stop the press. Boris Johnson has put his foot in it again.

This time, he has angered people by appearing to celebrate the decimation of the coal industry while making a joke about climate change.

What happened?

Asked during a visit to Scotland about whether the country should stop relying on oil and gas for energy, Johnson said that former prime minister Margaret Thatcher gave “a big early start” to green energy by closing coal mines.

It comes after Labour leader Keir Starmer said that there should be a “hard-edged” timetable to end the UK’s reliance on these forms of energy.

Johnson said: “We understand the importance to the north-east of Scotland of the oil and gas industry. The contracts that have been signed should not just be ripped up. But we need to transition as fast as we reasonably can.”

Pressed on whether he wanted to set a firm deadline, he replied: “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 all together”.


In 1984, there were 170 working collieries in Britain, employing more than 190,000 people but, by 2015, they had all closed.

Thatcher’s announcement that she planned to close 20 of them led to the year-long miners’ strike which saw violent clashes with the police.

Thatcher also didn’t close the mines because she was ahead of the curve on climate change. She did so because she believed them to be economically inefficient and wished to import more coal and gas. So all in all, not a great quip from Johnson.

And so – despite the fact he was joking that Thatcher inadvertently helped the environment rather than actually guffawing about those who lost their livelihoods in the 1980s – he received almost unanimous backlash from disgruntled people including Labour, former Conservative and SNP MPs and even from Nigel Farage.

Labour’s leader in Scotland Anas Sarwar also said the remarks were “just another example of why the Tories are a disaster and the biggest threat to the union”.

And 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.”

Johnson isn’t known for being tactful - his past comments comparing Muslim women wearing burkas to “letterboxes” have led people to accuse him of racism and Islamophobia.

But risking offending people from so-call red wall seats that switched blue in the 2019 general election will have his advisers wringing their hands more than ever.

Perhaps it is time someone switched off his microphone.

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