D-Day 80: Rishi Sunak apologises for skipping D-Day Normandy ceremony for ITV interview - "It was a mistake"

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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. Mr Sunak, of Southampton, 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.”

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Prime minister Rishi Sunak has apologised after missing the D-Day ceremony in Normandy yesterday. He attended the events in Portsmouth on Wednesday at Southsea Common. Picture: Sarah Standing (050624-3748)Prime minister Rishi Sunak has apologised after missing the D-Day ceremony in Normandy yesterday. He attended the events in Portsmouth on Wednesday at Southsea Common. Picture: Sarah Standing (050624-3748)
Prime minister Rishi Sunak has apologised after missing the D-Day ceremony in Normandy yesterday. He attended the events in Portsmouth on Wednesday at Southsea Common. Picture: Sarah Standing (050624-3748) | Sarah Standing

Mr Sunak attended the D-Day commemorations in Portsmouth on Wednesday, and the British Normandy ceremony yesterday, the anniversary of the allied landings. But he left France before world leaders including US President Joe Biden gathered for the main international ceremony on Thursday afternoon. Foreign secretary Lord Cameron was the senior UK minister in attendance. It was also an opportunity for Mr 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, Mr 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.” Mr 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 Mr 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 Mr Sunak stood accused of “not getting what it is to be prime minister”.

Opposition leaders said Rishi Sunak has brought shame on the office of prime minister. Picture: Carl Court/Getty Images.Opposition leaders said Rishi Sunak has brought shame on the office of prime minister. Picture: Carl Court/Getty Images.
Opposition leaders said Rishi Sunak has brought shame on the office of prime minister. Picture: Carl Court/Getty Images. | Getty Images

The D-Day events were known about long before Mr 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.”

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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. 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. 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.”

From left: Foreign Secretary Lord David Cameron, French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and US President Joe Biden attending the D-Day 80 International Ceremony at Omaha Beach, Normandy, France. The foreign secretary attended the Normandy in the place of prime minister Rishi Sunak. Picture: Abaca Press/Alamy Live News/PA WireFrom left: Foreign Secretary Lord David Cameron, French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and US President Joe Biden attending the D-Day 80 International Ceremony at Omaha Beach, Normandy, France. The foreign secretary attended the Normandy in the place of prime minister Rishi Sunak. Picture: Abaca Press/Alamy Live News/PA Wire
From left: Foreign Secretary Lord David Cameron, French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and US President Joe Biden attending the D-Day 80 International Ceremony at Omaha Beach, Normandy, France. The foreign secretary attended the Normandy in the place of prime minister Rishi Sunak. Picture: Abaca Press/Alamy Live News/PA Wire | Abaca Press/Alamy Live News/PA Wire

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.

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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 Mr Biden, Emmanuel Macron and the Prince of Wales. It later emerged that Mr 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.”

Labour candidate for Portsmouth South, Stephen Morgan, said: “Yesterday Portsmouth and the nation paid tribute to the courage and sacrifice of our D-Day veterans. Meanwhile, the Prime Minister chose a TV interview instead of staying at the 80th anniversary commemorations. This shows where Rishi Sunak's priorities lie, how poor his judgement is, and how out of touch he is with the British public.”

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