Sunak apologises after skipping international D-Day ceremony for TV interview

The Prime Minister said 'it was a mistake' not to stay longer at the event in France.

Sunak apologises after skipping international D-Day ceremony for TV interview Getty Images

Rishi Sunak has apologised after skipping a major international ceremony to mark the 80th anniversary of D-Day in order to carry out a General Election TV interview.

The Prime Minister said “it was a mistake” not to stay in France for the international event after he had attended the earlier British ceremony in Normandy.

Sunak has come under intense criticism after it emerged he missed the event with fellow world leaders to head back to the UK for an ITV interview.

The Prime Minister said: “I care deeply about veterans and have been honoured to represent the UK at a number of events in Portsmouth and France over the past two days and to meet those who fought so bravely.

“After the conclusion of the British event in Normandy, I returned back to the UK. On reflection, it was a mistake not to stay in France longer – and I apologise.”

The Prime Minister attended the UK national event at Portsmouth on Wednesday and then the British ceremony in Normandy on Thursday, the anniversary of the allied landings on D-Day.

But he left France before world leaders including US President Joe Biden gathered for the main international ceremony on Thursday afternoon.

Instead, Foreign Secretary Lord Cameron was the senior UK minister at the event.

It was also an opportunity for Sunak’s rival for the keys to No 10, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer to mingle with world leaders on the global stage.

In his apology on Friday, Sunak said: “The 80th anniversary of D-Day has been a profound moment to honour the brave men and women who put their lives on the line to protect our values, our freedom and our democracy.

“This anniversary should be about those who made the ultimate sacrifice for our country. The last thing I want is for the commemorations to be overshadowed by politics.”

Sunak was condemned by political rivals and the decision has also caused unease in Tory ranks.

The Prime Minister’s apology came while children’s minister David Johnston was touring broadcast studios, struggling to defend Sunak’s decision.

On Times Radio he was confronted with a message from one Conservative activist who said they “wonder whether I should bother” going out to knock doors for the party “when the Prime Minister seems to be doing all he can to lose the election”.

Sir Craig Oliver, who was Lord Cameron’s No 10 communications chief, said Sunak stood accused of “not getting what it is to be Prime Minister”.

The D-Day events were known about long before Sunak called the General Election.

“I think if you’re planning these things, you’ve got to say ‘look, that’s going to block the Prime Minister out’. It’s a very important moment for the country. But it’s also a very important moment to show that you’re being prime ministerial,” Sir Craig told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

“And the problem for Rishi Sunak this morning is he’s accused of not getting what it is to be a Prime Minister and what his duties are as a Prime Minister.”

Sir Craig also criticised the Tory campaign for sending children’s Mr Johnston out without knowing “what to say” about the Prime Minister’s actions.

“It was pretty clear that the Conservative campaign was going to be massively on the backfoot today,” he said.

The Prime Minister’s actions were seized on by political opponents, not least Reform UK which hopes to eat into Tory support.

Reform’s leader Nigel Farage said: “I was honoured to help raise £100,000 for the Taxi Charity to send veterans back to Normandy. It was a pleasure to meet them at the various events.

“Rishi Sunak could not even be bothered to attend the international event above Omaha Beach. Who really believes in our people, him or me?”

Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey said Sunak’s actions had brought shame to the office of Prime Minister.

“One of the greatest privileges of the office of Prime Minister is to be there to honour those who served, yet Rishi Sunak abandoned them on the beaches of Normandy,” Sir Ed said.

“He has brought shame to that office and let down our country.

“I am thinking right now of all those veterans and their families he left behind and the hurt they must be feeling. It is a total dereliction of duty and shows why this Conservative Government just has to go.”

For Labour, shadow paymaster general Jonathan Ashworth said: “Yesterday’s D-Day commemorations were about remembering the bravery of all those who serve our country.

“In choosing to prioritise his own vanity TV appearances over our veterans, Rishi Sunak has shown what is most important to him.

“It is yet more desperation, yet more chaos, and yet more dreadful judgement from this out of touch Prime Minister.”

The Prime Minister sat down with ITV on Thursday to defend claims he had made about Labour’s tax plans, having left commemoration events in France before the gathering of the world leaders on Omaha Beach.

The broadcaster said the timing of the interview, which will not be aired in full until next week, had been offered by the Conservatives.

He had appeared in Normandy earlier in the day to pay tribute to veterans but returned to Britain before the ceremony was over, while his rival Sir Keir remained alongside Biden, Emmanuel Macron and the Prince of Wales.

It later emerged that Sunak had given a broadcast interview on the same day, a clip of which was shared by broadcaster Paul Brand.

Mr Brand told ITV News At Ten: “Today was the slot we were offered … we don’t know why.”

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