Anger after Rishi Sunak 'skips D-Day event with world leaders' to return to UK for interview

7 June 2024, 00:58 | Updated: 7 June 2024, 07:34

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and his wife Akshata Murty stand with D-Day veteran Alec Penstone, 98, at the commemorative event on Thursday
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and his wife Akshata Murty stand with D-Day veteran Alec Penstone, 98, at the commemorative event on Thursday. Picture: Alamy

By Kit Heren

Rishi Sunak has been criticised for skipping part of the D-Day anniversary ceremony to go back to the UK for an interview.

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The Prime Minister gave a television interview to defend comments he'd made about Labour's tax plans, which have been criticised by a watchdog.

To give the interview he had to leave commemoration events in Normandy before world leaders gathered on Omaha Beach.

Foreign Secretary David Cameron was later seen in photos with Joe Biden and other leaders.

Mr Sunak had spoken earlier in the D-Day programme to pay tribute to veterans. His rival for Downing Street, Keir Starmer, stayed behind at the event.

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

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, 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 told the Mirror: "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?"

Meanwhile Labour's shadow paymaster general Jonathan Ashworth said: "The Prime Minister skipping off early from D-Day commemorations to record a television interview where he once again lied through his teeth is both an embarrassment and a total dereliction of duty.

"Our country deserves so much better than out-of-touch, desperate Rishi Sunak and his chaotic Tory Party."

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.

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