No apology from Boris Johnson over Thatcher coal mine closures remarkon August 6, 2021 at 12:33 pm

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But No 10 says Boris Johnson recognises the pain of closures, after he said they helped the climate.

Boris Johnson

image sourcePA Media

Boris Johnson has declined to apologise amid a backlash over his remarks about coal mine closures under former premier Margaret Thatcher.

The PM has faced demands to say sorry after claiming the shutdowns in the 1980s gave the UK a “big early start” in fighting climate change.

Opposition MPs have called the comments offensive to former mining communities.

The PM’s spokesman said he recognises the “huge impact and pain” of closures, but did not offer an apology.

Visiting a Scottish wind farm on Thursday, Mr Johnson told reporters: “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 is reported to have laughed and added: “I thought that would get you going.”

Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said Mr Johnson’s remarks were “crass and deeply insensitive” to mining communities.

She tweeted: “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).”

Labour’s shadow foreign secretary Lisa Nandy had called for an apology on Thursday, calling the PM’s comments “shameful”.

Asked on Friday if the PM would be apologising for his words, his official spokesman said: “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.”

Shortly afterwards, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer issued a statement repeating the party’s demands for an apology, adding the remarks had shown Mr Johnson’s “true colours”.

“For Boris Johnson to laugh when talking about the closure of the coal mines is a slap in the face for communities still suffering from the devastating effects of Margaret Thatcher’s callous actions,” he added.

Analysis box by Roger Harrabin, Environment analyst

Boris Johnson may be ill-advised to summon the ghost of Lady T to support his climate policies – but he has a point.

In 1989, the Iron Lady riveted the United Nations by warning that greenhouse gases were “changing the environment of our planet in damaging and dangerous ways”.

She continued: “The result is that change in future is likely to be more fundamental and more widespread than anything we have known hitherto.”

Her pit closures were not part of a green policy, but they did fortuitously show the UK could prosper without coal.

This made Britain a global leader on climate change. But it crushed communities.

Politicians don’t want to repeat the mistake, so they aim to create jobs in the environment sector.

But so far, the PM’s climate advisors say his policies on green jobs are running behind his rhetoric.

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

Mrs Thatcher’s announcement that she planned to close 20 of them, led to the year-long miners’ dispute.

Margaret Thatcher

Millions of people protested against pit closures and throughout the summer of 1984 there were violent clashes between striking miners and police, whose numbers often ran into several hundred at each confrontation.

Violence led to widespread use of the breach of the peace charge.

In October, it was announced that miners convicted during the strike would be pardoned by the Scottish government following an independent review.

Police restrain picketers outside a pit during the miners' strike in the 1980s

image sourcePA Media

Labour is opposed to the opening of new coal mines, saying they are not compatible with the UK wanting to be a world leader in reducing carbon emissions.

But Labour’s Alex Davies-Jones, who represents a former coalmining seat in south Wales, said closures had wrought long-lasting economic damage on such areas and Mr Johnson’s remarks were “appalling”.

The MP, whose father and grandfather were miners, added: “He’s clearly forgotten the devastation that these job losses caused for communities like mine”.

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