Johnny Mercer 'nauseated' at 'faux outrage' over Rishi Sunak's early departure from D-Day memorial

Minister for Veterans' Affairs Johnny Mercer attends the UK's national commemorative event for the 80th anniversary of D-Day, hosted by the Ministry of Defence on Southsea Common in Portsmouth
-Credit: (Image: Andrew Matthews/PA Wire)

Plymouth MP candidate Johnny Mercer said he finds the "faux outrage" over Prime Minister Rishi Sunak leaving Normandy D-Day memorial events early "nauseating", despite saying the Conservative party leader had made a "significant mistake". Mr Mercer said he understood "outrage" expressed by many when Mr Sunak left the event in Normandy early to shoot a TV interview, but added that the Prime Minister had apologised.

Rishi Sunak admitted that “on reflection” he should have stayed in Normandy for a major international ceremony attended by world leaders. Foreign Secretary Lord Cameron represented the UK Government, while Mr Sunak’s rival for the keys to No 10, Sir Keir Starmer, also attended the event.

Mr Mercer, who is standing for re-election in the Plymouth Moor View constituency, said Sunak's decision was "disappointing" and believed it to be a "mistake". He told The Sun he was "not underplaying" the impact of Mr Sunak's early departure from Omaha Beach, but branded some criticism as "faux outrage".

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"I've spoken to the Prime Minister this morning and, obviously it's disappointing, but I do find the kind of faux outrage from people who have done nothing but make my life difficult trying to improve veterans affairs over the years pretty nauseating, to be frank," Mr Mercer told The Sun.

“I get the outrage. It’s a mistake. It’s a significant mistake for which he’s apologised,” he added. He suggested that Mr Sunak’s team should take a share of the blame for their advice to him. “Obviously it’s a mistake. The PM on these visits receives a lot of advice on what he should and shouldn’t be doing,” he said.

The Prime Minister left Normandy to record an ITV election interview, which is set to air next week. The broadcaster said the timing of the interview was suggested by the Conservative Party.

“After the conclusion of the British event in Normandy, I returned back to the UK,” Mr Sunak said. “On reflection, it was a mistake not to stay in France longer – and I apologise.” The Prime Minister denied reports he had considered missing the Normandy elements of the D-Day anniversary commemorations entirely, telling broadcasters it was “simply not right” to suggest he had thought about not travelling to France.

Rishi Sunak's political opponents jumped on his actions, including 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?”

Sir Keir suggested there was a “mismatch” between Mr Sunak’s proposal to require 18-year-olds to do national service and his refusal to spend a whole day in France honouring D-Day veterans. Asked whether there was a mismatch, he said: “I think there is and he’s going to have to answer for the choices that he made.”

The Labour leader told ITV during a campaign visit in Greater London: “I was surprised because it’s a humbling day. This is the 80-year anniversary of an operation by brave young women and men not much older than my son who ran up those beaches on D-Day under gunfire, scared but brave, and to just contemplate that I found humbling.”

He added: “For me there was only one choice, which was to be there.”

Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey said Mr 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.”