'It was a mistake not to stay longer': Sunak says sorry for 'skipping D-Day event' to return to UK for interview

7 June 2024, 07:58 | Updated: 7 June 2024, 10:47

Rishi Sunak has apologised for leaving France early.
Rishi Sunak has apologised for leaving France early. Picture: Alamy

By Emma Soteriou

Rishi Sunak has said sorry for leaving D-Day commemorations in France early to return to the UK for an interview.

Listen to this article

Loading audio...

Mr Sunak said it was not his intention for D-Day commemorations "to be overshadowed by politics".

It comes after he skipped a gathering of world leaders on Omaha Beach as he returned back to the UK to give an interview defending comments he had made about Labour's tax plans.

He said he had been "honoured" to mark the 80th anniversary in both Portsmouth and France, adding that it was a mistake not to stay longer.

"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," Mr Sunak said.

"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."

Foreign Secretary David Cameron, French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, US President Joe Biden attending D-Day Anniversary International Ceremony at Omaha Beach
Foreign Secretary David Cameron, French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, US President Joe Biden attending D-Day Anniversary International Ceremony at Omaha Beach. Picture: Alamy

Read more: 'Isolation is not the answer', Joe Biden warns, as world leaders gather to mark 80th anniversary of D-Day

Read more: Today on D-Day’s 80th anniversary I remember my uncle Hamish who died bravely during WWII, writes Andrew Marr

Responding to the Prime Minister's apology, Jonathan Ashworth, Labour's Shadow Paymaster General, 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."

Veterans minister Johnny Mercer said Sunak's decision to leave the D-Day anniversary events early was a "significant mistake".

He told the Sun he understood the outrage but defended the Prime Minister's record on veterans.

"I get the outrage. It's a mistake. It's a significant mistake for which he's apologised.

"But I'm also not going to join the howls of the fake veterans supporters who say he doesn't treat veterans correctly, because it's not correct."

He added: "Obviously it's a mistake. The PM on these visits receives a lot of advice on what he should and shouldn't be doing.

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

Foreign Secretary David Cameron took Mr Sunak's place at the event and was seen in photos with Joe Biden and other leaders at the event.

The PM's rival for Downing Street, Keir Starmer, also stayed behind at the event.

It came after Mr Sunak spoke earlier in the D-Day programme to pay tribute to veterans.

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak during the Franco-British ceremony at the Ver-sur-mer memorial
British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak during the Franco-British ceremony at the Ver-sur-mer memorial. Picture: Alamy

Paul Brand, who was conducting the interview Mr Sunak, said: "Today was the slot we were offered ... we don't know why."

Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey said Rishi Sunak had "brought shame" to the office of Prime Minister by leaving Normandy early.

"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."

Mr Sunak's absence for part of the ceremony sparked disbelief from onlookers in the armed forces.

Colonel Richard Kemp said: "I know there is a General Election campaign to fight but this is a very significant anniversary of a major military achievement which led to freedom in Europe.

"It’s being attended by some of the veterans who may never attend another due to their age. I think it was very important that he showed his commitment to it.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and wife Akshata Murty with RAF veteran Bernard Morgan
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and wife Akshata Murty with RAF veteran Bernard Morgan. Picture: Alamy

"He should have stayed. As the PM of our country he should have been there to represent the country and to show our gratitude to those who fell."

Colonel Hamish de Bretton Gordon, a retired army officer, said: "It's a great disappointment. What could be more important than respecting the people who gave their lives for this country?"

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Akshata Murty stand with D-Day veteran Alec Penstone
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Akshata Murty stand with D-Day veteran Alec Penstone. Picture: Alamy

Campaigning had largely been suspended over as the 80th anniversary of D-Day took centre stage, and Mr Sunak appeared in his prime ministerial capacity at various commemoration events.

Tory sources had played down the diplomatic impact of the PM's absence in Normandy later on Thursday, pointing out he will be meeting other G7 leaders next week at a summit in Italy.

More Latest News

See more More Latest News

Callum the stag was "humanely euthanised".

Tourists blamed for death of 'legendary' stag after it was fed Rice Krispies and croissants

The Reform UK leader's comments came as he spoke to supporters at a rally in Kent on Tuesday, slamming the current government's ability to control immigration.

Farage warns of Channel migrant 'invasion' from countries 'with terrorism, gang culture and war zones'

Gavin Plumb is accused of plotting to kidnap Holly Willoughby

Obsessed security guard ‘plotted to keep Holly Willoughby in dungeon where screams couldn't be heard for miles'

At least two people have died in the fire

At least two dead as Moscow defence research centre bursts into flames ‘with staff trapped inside’

Parisians along River Seine, below Cathedral Notre Dame celebrate Fête de la Musique - annual city-wide music festival each June

British woman 'gang-raped in Paris at music festival'

Florida rapper Julio Foolio has been shot dead

Florida rapper Julio Foolio shot dead during his birthday in Florida

Meg Bellamy played Kate Middleton in The Crown

The Crown star Meg Bellamy reveals trolls branded her 'too fat' to play Kate in the show

Jay Slater's father has urged people to come forward if they have any information on his son's disappearance

'Someone must know something': Jay Slater's father speaks out as search for missing son stretches into second week

Security guard who plotted to kidnap, rape and murder Holly Willoughby previously held other women against their will

Security guard who plotted to kidnap, rape and murder Holly Willoughby previously held other women against their will

Princess Diana's family home in Mayfair has gone on sale for the first time in decades

'A trophy home with royal connections': Mayfair townhouse where Diana met Dodi on sale for £11m

A shopping centre security guard from Essex, spent almost two years plotting to kidnap and kill Holly Willoughby.

'Obsessed' security guard spent almost two years 'plotting to kidnap, rape and murder' Holly Willoughby

Princess Anne has been injured by a horse

Princess Anne rushed to hospital with concussion after being kicked in the head by horse on country estate

Rishi Sunak has said he is not aware of any other candidates being investigated in the Conservative gambling scandal

Sunak says he's not being investigated in Tory betting scandal and is 'unaware of other candidates being looked at'

Lucy Letby tells retrial she never intended to harm babies in her care

Lucy Letby tells her retrial she never tried to harm any babies in her care

Frederick Allard has been jailed

Predator landlord jailed after demanding sexual favours from women in exchange for reduced rent

Jay Slater's family have shared an image of what is believed to be the last sighting of him

Spanish police issue update on missing Jay Slater after family share CCTV of mystery figure believed to be teen