There was anger as the PM said that ex-PM Margaret Thatcher gave the UK a “big early start” in its battle against climate change when she closed coal mines in the 1980s.
It comes as he insisted Cambo oil and gas field contracts cannot be torn up, which environmental groups have said are totally against the government’s supposed green strategy.
“Look at what we’ve done already. We’ve transitioned away from coal in my lifetime,” 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.”
According to the Daily Record, the prime minister laughed when he made the reference to Mrs Thatcher, whose time in Downing Street featured the miners’ strike of 1984-5.
Cambo oil and gas field
His comments come as Boris Johnson has insisted that “we can’t just tear up contracts” as campaigners urged him to block the drilling of oil and gas from the seabed near Shetland.
The UK Government could approve proposals for fossil fuel extraction from the Cambo oil field ahead of the Cop26 climate summit in Glasgow this year.
Original licensing for fossil fuel exploration at the site – located in the North Atlantic to the west of the Shetland Islands – was initially approved in 2001.
If given the go-ahead for full extraction by the UK Government, a further 150-170 million barrels are due to be drilled from the site, which is expected to operate until 2050.
But more than 80,000 people have now signed a petition delivered to Downing Street, demanding the Prime Minister stop the development and block any extraction of fossil fuels given the climate crisis and pledges to reduce carbon emissions.
Mr Johnson was challenged about the situation during a visit to an offshore wind development in the Moray Firth.
The Prime Minister told broadcasters: “This was a contract that was signed in… was agreed in 2001 and we can’t just tear up contracts, there is a process to be gone through.
“But what we need to do is use this incredible potential of wind power, and turbines like this… they’ve only been going up in the last four or five years, the size that you’re looking at now, and they’re going to get even bigger.
“So the potential is absolutely enormous. We can power millions and millions of homes across the UK.”
Thatcher devastated communities across Scotland. Many still bear the scars of brutal Tory cuts.— Ian Blackford (@Ianblackford_MP) August 5, 2021
Yet again, @BorisJohnson has shown he is completely out of touch with Scotland by making unbelievably crass jokes at the expense of our mining communities.https://t.co/Np2ROnFkvx
Thousands of jobs lost, communities devastated, and decades of decline ushered in but Boris Johnson laughs about Margaret Thatcher closing coal mines during Scottish visit https://t.co/XMtl7ylFfT— stewart paterson (@patersonHT) August 5, 2021
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.https://t.co/Lga1FYHfqC— Keir Starmer (@Keir_Starmer) August 5, 2021
Lives & 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 & deeply insensitive to that reality. https://t.co/QY0Y59UO3K— Nicola Sturgeon (@NicolaSturgeon) August 5, 2021
Johnson just praised Thatcher for giving them a head start on the climate crisis by closing so many coal mines.— Mark Nelson (@marknelsoncomic) August 5, 2021
Like praising Harold Shipman for reducing GP waiting times.
Boris Johnson laughs at the Thatcher govts destruction of the coal industry and it's communities, to think the red wall former mining constituencies voted for him, he's not your mate, we told you again and again, Johnson hates you, he always has, he always will..— Loz Argyle ⚓ (@ArgyleLoz) August 5, 2021
This will go down badly for Johnson and the Cons in red wall seats. Even Tebbit apologised for abandoning mining communities https://t.co/SleNdvzQxq— Kevin Maguire (@Kevin_Maguire) August 5, 2021
There were a number of reasons Margaret Thatcher closed down the UK coal mines but not a single one of them in any way, shape or form @BorisJohnson was because of the mines environmental impact. She imported coal from Australia, USA, Colombia instead..some environmentalist— Patrina Finch #FBPE (@Siege_Perilous) August 5, 2021
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.— Scottish Greens (@scottishgreens) August 5, 2021
Its cruel and vindictive policies left communities and workers across Scotland high and dry.https://t.co/KXgvxNdguP
The closure of the coal mines had a devastating impact on communities with nothing put in place to replace people’s jobs and livelihoods. That the Prime Minister was laughing at this is appalling and shows his lack of care and understanding.https://t.co/m49jnaeVap— Nick Thomas-Symonds MP (@NickTorfaen) August 5, 2021
Related: Best reactions as Tory MP celebrates Brexit with cardboard cut-out of Margaret Thatcher