Starmer hails sacrifice of D-Day heroes on 80th anniversary, as Sunak vows to make UK 'best country for veterans'

5 June 2024, 22:30 | Updated: 5 June 2024, 22:36

Rishi Sunak and Keir Starmer have hailed the bravery of veterans
Rishi Sunak and Keir Starmer have hailed the bravery of veterans. Picture: LBC/Alamy

By Kit Heren

Keir Starmer and Rishi Sunak have both hailed the bravery of veterans on the 80th anniversary of D-Day, as they prepare to take part in a memorial for Second World War heroes.

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King Charles, Mr Sunak, French president Emmanuel Macron and Sir Keir will attend a ceremony at the British Normandy memorial in Ver-sur-Mer in France to mark the 80th anniversary of the landings.

An international event with Joe Biden and Volodymyr Zelenskyy will take part later on Thursday afternoon.

Thursday marks the second day of commemoration. On Wednesday, a group of 31 British former servicemen made the crossing to France from Portsmouth and took part in a service with Princess Anne at Bayeux War Cemetery.

Among several other events on Wednesday, King Charles gave a speech honouring the heroes of D-Day at an ceremony in Portsmouth.

Read more: Fighting back tears: King and Queen overcome with emotion as war hero recounts how his ‘dear friend' died on D-Day

Read more: Princess Anne smiles and laughs with D-Day veterans in emotional return to Normandy ahead of 80th anniversary

King Charles makes emotional speech at D-Day service

As well as attending the memorial, Mr Sunak will unveil a raft of measures that he says will make the UK "the best place in the world to be a veteran".

Speaking on Thursday, Sir Keir will say: "Eighty years ago today, the sun rose on a new day of hope for a world in the dark storm of the Second World War.

"As ships and planes full of brave British soldiers approached the coast of France on D-Day, their courage and sacrifice would bring liberation to Europe and secure our freedoms for generations to come.

"UK servicemen stood with our Allies from around the world to deliver a decisive blow against fascism and turn the tide of the war. Some made the ultimate sacrifice, giving their lives so we could live freely. Others returned home to build a new Britain out of the ashes of the war.

Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer and Portsmouth South candidate Stephen Morganon (right) on a Second World War landing craft with veteran Lieutenant Commander Len Chivers, 99
Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer and Portsmouth South candidate Stephen Morganon (right) on a Second World War landing craft with veteran Lieutenant Commander Len Chivers, 99. Picture: Alamy

"It is a privilege to stand with surviving D-Day veterans in Normandy today as we mark this historic anniversary. We will commemorate their courage, we will honour their fallen comrades and we will ensure that their story is never forgotten.

"Our debt to them can never repaid in full. But we can – and must - honour their sacrifice. This goes beyond party politics. This is about who we are as a nation. This is our story, our history, our identity - and our future together.

"The story of D-Day is a story not only of individual courage, but of collective strength. Of commitment to our Western allies in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds. It is a story that resonates just as strongly today, in this new age of insecurity, as it ever has.

"Like so many families, I have relatives who fought in the Second World War who I will be remembering this week. It is an honour to attend commemorations in Portsmouth and in France on behalf of the Labour Party. And to personally thank members of that generation who delivered us out of the shadow of war, into a brighter future for Britain.

"We must never allow that generation’s heroism to be forgotten. At the going down of the sun, and in the morning, we will remember them."

Britain's Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and his wife Akshata Murty meet veterans
Britain's Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and his wife Akshata Murty meet veterans. Picture: Alamy

Meanwhile the Conservatives said they would bring in a new Veterans Bill, that would include measures to ensure military qualifications had an equal standing with civilian qualifications in law for the first time.

The Tories are also promising to reduce the price of the Veterans Railcard from £30 per year to £21, bringing it in line with the price serving personnel pay for the HM Forces Railcard.

The existing national insurance holiday for employers who hire ex-military members will be extended, the party said.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said that "the heroes who have put their lives on the line to protect our freedoms represent the very best of our country."

He added: “That’s why we have prioritised making the UK the best place in the world to be a veteran with our clear plan to give them the opportunities, aftercare and support they deserve to live prosperous, fulfilled lives."

Princess Anne arrives to attend the Commonwealth War Grave Commission's Great Vigil at Bayeux War Cemetery
Princess Anne arrives to attend the Commonwealth War Grave Commission's Great Vigil at Bayeux War Cemetery. Picture: Getty

Veterans Minister Johnny Mercer said that D-Day was "a moment for us to reflect on the historic bravery of those men who fought for us 80 years ago", adding that "their spirit lives on in the millions of veterans who continue their legacy today."

Mr Mercer said: "I am hugely proud of the progress we’ve made in ensuring the UK is the best place in the world to be a veteran and I am dedicated to making sure we go even further with this clear plan to support vets.

"And we will go further by passing a law to enshrine veterans’ rights in law so that all veterans can have the peace of mind that their dedication will be recognised and rewarded throughout their lifetimes."

Princess Anne speaks to D-Day veterans

Responding to the announcement, a Labour Party spokesperson said: "Veterans have had 14 years of the Conservatives promising a lot but delivering very little.

"The Conservatives haven't passed a Veterans Bill since 2010. They've only issued veteran ID cards to one in 10 eligible veterans and they've overseen a rise in veteran homelessness.

"The Tory record on veterans is shameful failure and their election plans mean no change for veterans. It's time for change with Labour.

"We will improve the everyday lives of our veterans by putting the Armed Forces Covenant fully into law, protect and improve the Office of Veterans' Affairs, and scrap visa fees for non-UK veterans who have served four years and their dependants."

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