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by Andrew Learmonth
05 August 2021
Boris Johnson praises Margaret Thatcher for giving UK 'early start' on transition away from coal

Boris Johnson praises Margaret Thatcher for giving UK 'early start' on transition away from coal

Boris Johnson has praised Margaret Thatcher for closing coal mines in the 80s, saying she gave the UK “a big early start” on the transition away from fossil fuels.

Speaking to Scottish journalists as he visited the Moray East windfarm, the prime minister said the mass closure of pits had an environmental benefit. 

Recent analysis found that the impact of the closures is still being felt in many communities, with coalfield towns and villages among the most disadvantaged areas of the country.

Asked about the controversial Cambo oilfield and setting a date for the end of oil and gas exploration in the North Sea, the prime minister said: “We understand the importance to the northeast of Scotland of the oil and gas industry. The contracts that have been signed, should not be just be ripped up. But we need to transition as fast as we reasonably can.

“Look at the colossal turbines behind me, oh they are big.

“The potential of Scottish wind is just incredible. This is an opportunity to generate high-wage, high-skilled jobs that have the additional pleasure and motivation for people that by doing them, they're doing something to save the planet.”

Asked if he would set a deadline for the end of oil and gas, 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 altogether. We're now down to less than 2 per cent, 1 per cent I think of our energy comes from coal.”

He chuckled, telling the journalists assembled for the virtual press conference: “I thought that'd get you going.” 

The Conservative government's colliery closure programme in the mid-80s led to a year-long miners' strike which ended in March 1985.

The strikers were unsuccessful, and the closure of the pits went ahead.

Analysis by the Coalfields Regeneration Trust (CRT) found that when compared to the national average, many have lower life expectancies and higher rates of 16 to 19-year olds not in education or jobs.

The report added there remained "significant and concentrated deprivation" in some parts of Fife, South Lanarkshire, East Ayrshire, North Lanarkshire and Clackmannanshire.

Labour MSP Monica Lennon described the comments as "disgusting, divisive and disrespectful".

She added: "Boris Johnson cannot be trusted on climate crisis, Covid recovery or on the constitution. Shame on @Douglas4Moray and the Scottish Tories for standing by Boris no matter how low he stoops."

Ian Blackford, the SNP leader at Westminster, said the comments were “unbelievably crass”.

He tweeted: “Thatcher devastated communities across Scotland. Many still bear the scars of brutal Tory cuts.

“Yet again, Boris Johnson has shown he is completely out of touch with Scotland by making unbelievably crass jokes at the expense of our mining communities.”

Scottish Greens MSP Gillian Mackay said the prime minister's comments were  “outrageous”.

She 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 prime minister visited a windfarm during his trip to Scotland

The prime minister's visit to the Scottish windfarm comes amid reports of disagreement in government over how to approach the COP26 summit in Glasgow.

President Alok Sharma and supporters reportedly want to “say as little as possible before the summit in the hope of building a late consensus and declaring whatever can be agreed in Glasgow a success”.

The rival camp, believe that’s not enough. Glasgow won’t solve everything, they argue, but it could still be a crucial stepping stone to another COP in five years that might.

In his conference with Scottish journalists, the prime minister insisted he wouldn’t be limiting his ambition. 

“If you look at COP, the agenda is very, very clear and it's incredibly exciting.

“What you've got is countries representing 70 per cent of the world's GDP have now committed to reducing to net zero by 2050.

“You've got countries coming forward with bigger and bigger nationally determined contributions for reducing CO2. 

“And we've set out clear objectives on raising cash to support countries on the road to net zero, supporting developing countries, and you saw what happened in Carbis Bay [at the G7 summit] where we raised $100 billion. 

“[The UK has] a target for moving away from coal by 2040, and stopping the overseas financing of coal, as well as domestic consumption of coal, a target for moving away from hydrocarbon internal combustion engine vehicles by the 2030s.”

“And then a target for planting millions of trees around the world and protecting the loss of biodiversity,” the prime minister added. 

Keeping the increase in the planet's temperature to 1.5 degrees, would, he admitted be a “difficult thing to achieve, but it's very, very clear what the COP is there to do, and I hope that the leaders of the world will rise to it”.

Johnson added: “What we won't do, let me just stress, what we won't do, we will not reduce the level of our ambition for COP, in order to set a target, an ambition that we know we can meet.

“I'm going to be as ambitious as possible for COP26 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.”

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