Farage and Mordaunt criticise Sunak's 'completely wrong' decision to leave D-Day early, in heated election debate

7 June 2024, 22:02 | Updated: 7 June 2024, 22:13

Nigel Farage and Penny Mordaunt criticised Rishi Sunak
Nigel Farage and Penny Mordaunt criticised Rishi Sunak. Picture: Alamy

By Kit Heren

Rishi Sunak came under fire from a member of his own Cabinet, as well as Nigel Farage and top figures from other parties in a Friday night election debate, over his decision to leave D-Day commemorations early.

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Penny Mordaunt, the Conservative leader of the House of Commons, said that the Prime Minister's decision to return to the UK for a TV interview was "completely wrong".

Mr Sunak has apologised for the move, after being criticised by the opposition and members of the military. A poll released on Friday afternoon suggested nearly two thirds of the British public thought his decision was "unacceptable".

As well as Ms Mordaunt, several other participants in the seven-way debate between the Conservatives, Labour, Liberal Democrats, Reform UK, the SNP, the Greens and Plaid Cymru also criticised Mr Sunak.

Ms Mordaunt said: "What happened was completely wrong and the Prime Minister has rightly apologised for that, apologised to veterans but also to all of us, because he was representing all of us.

Read more: Majority of Brits say Rishi Sunak skipping D-Day event is 'unacceptable', as minister calls criticism 'unfair'

Read more: Rishi Sunak heckled by furious GP who tells him thousands of her colleagues will not vote Conservative

Deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner (left) and Commons Leader Penny Mordaunt debate
Deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner (left) and Commons Leader Penny Mordaunt debate. Picture: Alamy

"I'm from Portsmouth, I have also been defence secretary and my wish is, at the end of this week, is that all of our veterans feel completely treasured."

"Asked if she would have left D-Day commemorations early, Ms Mordaunt said: "I didn't go to D-Day. I think what happened was very wrong, I think the Prime Minister has apologised for that.

"But what I also think is important is we honour their legacy, they fought for our freedom, and unless we are spending the right amount on defence we can't honour that legacy."

Reform's Mr Farage said that Mr Sunak's actions showed that his instincts were not in line with those of the British people. The SNP's Westminster Leader Stephen Flynn also criticised the move, while the Lib Dems' Daisy Cooper said she felt "personally quite insulted."

Reform UK leader Nigel Farage, leader of Plaid Cymru Rhun ap Iorwerth and Liberal Democrat deputy leader Daisy Cooper
Reform UK leader Nigel Farage, leader of Plaid Cymru Rhun ap Iorwerth and Liberal Democrat deputy leader Daisy Cooper. Picture: Alamy

This was the second debate of the General Election campaign, after the face-off between Mr Sunak and Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer on Tuesday.

Candidates answered seven questions on defence, the NHS, immigration, the cost of living, delivering in government, the climate and crime.

They were responding to a question about the military. Ms Mordaunt, a former Defence Secretary, used it to attack Labour, saying that the opposition party lacked "credibility" on military affairs.

“Imagine what Putin is thinking," she said. "Without credibility, we become a target. If we become a target you are less safe. It’s too late for this generation of Labour politicians, that credibility is shot. Do not vote these people in."

Reform UK leader Nigel Farage, leader of Plaid Cymru Rhun ap Iorwerth, Liberal Democrat deputy leader Daisy Cooper, Stephen Flynn of the SNP, co-leader of the Green Party Carla Denyer, deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner and Commons Leader Penny Mordaun
Reform UK leader Nigel Farage, leader of Plaid Cymru Rhun ap Iorwerth, Liberal Democrat deputy leader Daisy Cooper, Stephen Flynn of the SNP, co-leader of the Green Party Carla Denyer, deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner and Commons Leader Penny Mordaun. Picture: Alamy

Labour's Angela Rayner said in response the Conservatives "have cut out the Armed Forces, crashed the economy and left us in a real mess."

She added: "Keir has been absolutely clear, I am absolutely clear, we will keep our nuclear deterrent and we will invest it."

The SNP's Mr Flynn said: "We need to be standing with our veterans. We need to make sure that our military is fully funded and that we have more people serving, and that we look after them when they become veterans."

Responding to the next question, on how to improve the NHS, Mr Flynn accused Mr Farage of wanting to privatise the health service.

The Reform leader called for the NHS to be "managed like as if it was a private company".

(left-right back) Stephen Flynn of the SNP, co-leader of the Green Party Carla Denyer and deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner
(left-right back) Stephen Flynn of the SNP, co-leader of the Green Party Carla Denyer and deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner. Picture: Alamy

But the Greens and the Lib Dems said that funding was the issue. The Greens' co-leader in England and Wales, Carla Denyer, said that taxing very rich people more was the way to raise more money for the health service.

In response to a question about immigration and the pressures that record inflows into the country have put onto public services, Ms Mordaunt admitted that migrant numbers were too high.

Reiterating an already-announced plan, she said: "The best way to do this is to get Parliament - your parliament, elected by you - to have an annual cap.

"What that will do is take into account the economic needs, the needs of the workforce, but also the pressures that immigration puts on communities."

Ms Rayner said instead that public services were creaking because of Conservative mismanagement and underfunding.

Tory peer on the 'mitigations' around Sunak's D-Day blunder

She said: "We would scrap the Rwanda scheme. We would put that money into a Border Force Command which would be able to smash the gangs because we need to do that.

"And 14 years of the Conservatives, they're relying on overseas to fill our skills shortages because we haven't got an industrial and skills strategy."

Mr Farage said the UK is enduring a "population crisis" which is making life worse for ordinary people across the board.

He said: "This ought to be the immigration election, because whether we talk about housing, whether we talk about the fact that rents are up between 20 and 30% in most of the country in the last four years, whether we talk about the roads, whether we talk about infrastructure, we are living through a population crisis."

He was criticised by Mr Flynn, who argued that migration is a net benefit for the UK and Rhun ap Iorwerth of Plaid Cymru.

The Welsh politician said that the "tone of the debate is framed around the bigotry of people like Nigel Farage", prompting derision from the Reform UK leader.

On the cost of living, Ms Mordaunt repeated previous Tory claims that Labour would raise taxes. The claim that Labour would increase taxes by £2,000 was made first by Rishi Sunak in the earlier debate, and has since been criticised by Sir Keir and an independent statistics watchdog.

Ms Mordaunt told the audience: "We have got to cut taxes and we have got to alleviate the burdens on business." She also said Labour's plan to create GB Energy, a taxpayer-owned energy business, would raise energy bills. Labour have said it will reduce bills.

Ms Rayner hit back, accusing Ms Mordaunt of lying, and the two began to speak over each other in the most heated moment of the night.

The Greens' Ms Denyer joked that the episode "was terribly dignified".

She added that her party "would provide a real safety net starting with a £15 minimum wage for all ages, removing the ageist cap on young working adults, an immediate uplift to universal credit and, my final point, removing the cruel two-child benefit cap which both the Conservative and Labour parties support even though it holds 250,000 children down in poverty unnecessarily."

Mr Farage accused Ms Mordaunt of "dishonesty on a breathtaking scale".

He said energy bills had been “too expensive because we load money, we load tax onto your taxes to give the wind farms money... The population has made housing, whether you buy them or rents, too expensive”.

"The big one’s taxes," he added. "Even during Tony Blair’s time the top rate of tax was 40p in this country, and it was paid by one million people in this country. By 2029, eight million people will be paying the 40p rate of tax... That’s why life is so tough.

"To hear Penny Mordaunt, whose government have put the tax burden up to the highest in this country since 1948, pretending they’re a tax-cutting party, frankly, it is dishonesty on a breathtaking scale."

The fifth question, about why "politicians promise things but nothing happens when they get into government", raised a laugh from the audience.

Ms Rayner said in response that Labour would only promise what it could fund, which Ms Mordaunt objected to.

Mr Farage said nothing would change, regardless of who won the election. He said that the country needed a "revolt", which Reform UK could offer, he claimed.

Another laugh came when Ms Cooper of the Lib Dems was reminded of her party breaking its promises on university tuition fees when they were part of the Coalition government with the Conservatives. She responded that it was a "sore point".

Asked about plans to tackle the climate crisis, Ms Mordaunt and Ms Rayner clashed again over GB Energy, with Ms Mordaunt claiming again that it would drive up energy bills.

Ms Mordaunt said that if Labour got in, at the end of the next government it would be impossible to buy a petrol car.

Ms Rayner was also quizzed about Labour going back on its £28 billion green energy plan, and said that they were still committed to a green prosperity plan.

The final question, on knife crime, led to a spirited debate about the controversial police tactic of stop and search.

Mr Farage backed it wholeheartedly, and said that police should not be worried about accusations of racism.

Others said that they supported stop and search under the right circumstances.

Ms Mordaunt reiterated points already made by Conservative colleagues that violent crime had come down considerably during the party's time in office.

The 90-minute long debate ended with the representative of each party delivering a short speech summing up their pitch to voters.

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