Boris Johnson has faced condemnation from the first minister of Wales after joking about Margaret Thatcher closing coal mines.
Mark Drakeford said the prime minister’s comments were “crass and offensive”, with the collapse of the coal industry causing “incalculable” damage to Welsh communities.
The PM had claimed that Mrs Thatcher had given the UK an “early start” in the shift away from fossil fuels by closing pits.
However, this only meant that the UK imported more coal, losing jobs and of course the environmental cost of transporting it to the UK.
Coal import volumes
Between 1970 and 2019, coal import volumes tended to be higher than the amount of coal exported. However, another important trend noticed, is the reduction of coal volume in general, as with the growth of renewable energy sources and gas, coal has become less used as a fuel for electricity generation.
With the number of pit closures increasing each year, employment figures have inevitably fallen. During the industry’s peak years there were as many as 1.2 million workers – approximately 1-in-20 of the nation’s workforce. Despite declines in the following decades there were still more than 200,000 workers in 1980. However, within 10 years the number of jobs had fallen to below 50,000.
By 2018 there were less than 1,000.
UK continued to import 11 million tonnes of coal 30 years after Thatcher closed the coal mines.— Tory Fibs (@ToryFibs) August 6, 2021
Boris Johnson incorrect to claim her decision was linked to environment.
Mr Johnson’s comments, made during a visit to Scotland on Thursday, had already been strongly criticised by Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer and Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon.
Mr Drakeford added his rebuke to the prime minister, highlighting the economic scarring suffered across swathes of Wales by the decline of coal.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today: “I’m afraid that those remarks are both crass and offensive.
“The damage done to Welsh coal mining areas 30 years ago was incalculable and here we are 30 years later the Tories are still celebrating what they did.”
Mr Johnson made the off-the-cuff remarks as he was pressed on whether he would set a deadline for ending fossil fuel extraction.
The Prime Minister hailed existing action to move to greener forms of power, stating when he was a child 70 per cent to 80 per cent of all electricity had been coal-generated.
“Since then, it’s gone right down to 1 per cent, or sometimes less,” he stated.
Mr Johnson said: “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.”
The Thatcher administration saw the bitter 1984-85 miners’ strike which affected pit communities across the country.
Ms Sturgeon responded by saying lives and communities across Scotland were “utterly devastated by Thatcher’s destruction of the coal industry” adding that it had “zero to do with any concern she had for the planet”.
Labour leader Sir Keir said: “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.”
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