Rishi Sunak forced into humiliating apology after leaving D-Day ceremony early in ‘dereliction of duty' as PM

Rishi Sunak forced into humiliating apology after leaving D-Day ceremony early in ‘dereliction of duty' as PM

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Rishi Sunak admitted on Friday to making a “mistake” as he was forced into a humiliating apology for leaving the D-Day commemoration in France early to record a TV interview.

Opposition parties accused the Prime Minister of a “dereliction of duty” after he dashed back to resume campaigning for next month’s election, while Sir Keir Starmer stayed on at the event in Normandy to mix with world leaders including Joe Biden, Emmanuel Macron and Volodymyr Zelensky.

Sir Keir on Friday said Mr Sunak “will have to answer for his own actions” in leaving Normandy after a UK commemoration, before a broader international event, but stressed that “for me, there was nowhere else I was going to be”.

Mr Sunak returned to sit down with ITV and defend claims he had made in a televised debate with Sir Keir this week about Labour’s tax plans - claims that have now been criticised by the UK statistics watchdog as well as by independent fact-checkers.

The Labour leader is accusing the PM of lying but he failed to push back until late in the debate, to the dismay of his allies, and senior Tories are confident they have shone a searchlight on Labour’s tax and spending plans.

In a tweet on Friday morning, the PM 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.

“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.”

But speaking later to reporters, Mr Sunak said it was “simply not right“ to suggest that he considered missing the D-Day events altogether in order to focus on the election campaign.

Ahead of a BBC TV debate on Friday evening, involving senior frontbenchers for Labour and the Conservatives rather than the leaders, the D-Day row fuelled another nightmare day for the Tories as they struggle to erode Labour’s huge polling lead ahead of the General Election.

On the airwaves Friday morning, junior minister David Johnston denied that the PM’s D-Day choice was “bizarre”, just before he was undercut by the apology. On LBC, the minister for children then admitted he didn’t know how much child benefit is.

Mr Johnston also defended the Conservatives accepting a further donation of £150,000 from businessman Frank Hester in March, two days after it emerged that he had made what the PM admitted were “racist and wrong” comments about Diane Abbott.

It came on top of £5 million given by Mr Hester in January to the Tories, and £10 million last year. The Liberal Democrats called on Mr Sunak to donate the £5 million to a veterans' charity, as recompense for his D-Day decision.

The Office for Statistics Regulation meanwhile took issue with Mr Sunak’s claim that Labour plans a £2,000 tax rise on the average British household, stressing that he failed to spell out it would be spread over four years.

In any case, Labour bitterly disputes the supposedly “independent” calculation, and the Treasury’s top mandarin has distanced his officials from it.

Conservative commentator Tim Montgomerie called the decision to come home early from France “political malpractice of the highest order”. Sir Craig Oliver, who was communications chief in David Cameron’s No10, said it left Mr Sunak open to accusations of “not getting what it is to be a prime minister”.

Veterans Affairs Minister Johnny Mercer conceded it was a “significant mistake” by the PM in failing to stay the whole day, but also blasted opposition attacks as “pretty nauseating.”

“Let's not lose our heads over this. This guy has done more for veterans than any of his predecessors,” he said on The Sun’s Never Mind The Ballots show.

“The guy's made a mistake and he's apologised for it. Most veterans are decent people, they know who looks after them and who doesn't.”

Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross also defended the PM, telling BBC Radio Scotland that Mr Sunak had "looked at that and reflected".

He added: "It was right that he apologise. It was a crucial moment in our history and it is right it is recognised fully and properly, and that is why it is also correct the Prime Minister has apologised."

But Labour’s shadow housing minister Matthew Pennycook slammed Mr Sunak, telling Sky News: “He left, let's be clear, to come back and pre-record an interview where he doubled down on a proven lie about the Labour Party's interventions if it forms the next Government.

“I think it’s embarrassing. I think it’s a shameful dereliction of duty.”

Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey said: "He has brought shame to that office and let down our country. It is a total dereliction of duty and shows why this Conservative government just has to go."

Another leader who was present in Normandy and profiting from the PM’s embarrassment was Reform UK’s Nigel Farage.

Mr Farage, who is due to take part in Friday’s BBC debate, tweeted: “Patriotic people who love their country should not vote for him.”

Chris Hopkins, political research director for pollsters Savanta, said: “An embattled Conservative leader, seen as out of touch with ordinary voters, and leaking votes to Reform UK, frankly couldn’t have imagined a worse news story than leaving a D-Day commemoration early after having allegedly not wanted to go at all.

“This political misjudgement seems almost laser guided in causing Rishi Sunak and the Conservative Party as much political pain as humanly possible. And they only have themselves to blame.”