Home » Britain’s Rishi Sunak apologizes for leaving D-Day event early to return to campaigning | CBC News

Britain’s Rishi Sunak apologizes for leaving D-Day event early to return to campaigning | CBC News

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak suffered a fresh setback in his struggling election campaign on Friday when he apologized for leaving D-Day commemorations early in order to give an interview attacking the main opposition party.

Sunak’s decision to leave early was met with dismay within his Conservative Party, which is trailing far behind the Labour Party in opinion polls and facing the prospect of a huge defeat on July 4.

Labour Leader Keir Starmer also attended the D-Day 80th anniversary events in northern France on Thursday and was seen talking to world leaders including Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

“After the conclusion of the British event in Normandy, I returned back to the U.K.,” Sunak said in a post on X. “On reflection, it was a mistake not to stay in France longer — and I apologize.”

British Conservative Leader Rishi Sunak stands beside British D-Day veteran Alec Penstone, 98, on Thursday in Ver-sur-Mer, France, with Sunak’s wife, Akshata Murty, shown on the right. Sunak has apologized for leaving the event before its end. (Gareth Fuller/AFP/Getty Images)

Sunak said the D-Day events “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.”

World leaders including U.S. President Joe Biden and King Charles gathered in Normandy, northern France, to mark the anniversary of the Allied landings, a turning point in the Second World War. Prince William attended an event honouring Canadian sacrifices and heroism on D-Day.

Sunak spoke at a British-led event but delegated other duties to ministers including Foreign Secretary David Cameron, who was pictured with Biden, French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz at a memorial ceremony.

Sunak then recorded an interview with broadcaster ITV on Thursday after returning from France.

WATCH l American WW II hero offers praise to Ukrainian leader:

Veteran calls Zelenskyy a ‘saviour of the people’ at D-Day event

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy kneeled to share a moment with a veteran at an event marking the 80th anniversary of D-Day, with each man praising the other for their war efforts.

‘Total dereliction of duty’

Senior Labour spokesperson Jonathan Ashworth accused Sunak of “choosing to prioritize his own vanity TV appearances over our veterans,” and “it is yet more desperation, yet more chaos, and yet more dreadful judgment.”

Liberal Democrat Leader Ed Davey accused the prime minister of a “total dereliction of duty.”

WATCH l Sunak makes wet, impromptu election call last month:

U.K. PM Rishi Sunak calls snap election in political gamble

U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak called a snap election for July 4, months earlier than expected. His conservative party risks a heavy defeat, down 20 points in the opinion polls, but he appears to hope improved economic data will help his party come back from behind.

Sunak has tried to portray himself as the person best placed to look after Britain’s security and he recently pledged to introduce mandatory national service if he wins the election.

His campaign got off to a bad start last month when he announced the election date under a downpour of rain, competing to be heard against Labour supporters blaring a pop song associated with the party’s crushing 1997 election victory.

Sunak’s Conservative Party is lagging about 20 points behind the opposition Labour Party in opinion polls. The party, in power for over 14 years, could also be vulnerable on the right after Brexit campaigner Nigel Farage changed course after announcing he wouldn’t run in the election by taking over leadership of the right-wing Reform UK party.

Chris Hopkins, political research director at the polling company Savanta, said Sunak was already seen by voters as out of touch.

The latest “political misjudgment seems almost laser-guided in causing Rishi Sunak and the Conservative Party as much political pain as humanly possible,” he said.

LISTEN l BBC’s domestic political correspondent Rob Watson on election stakes:

Front Burner24:02Election season in the UK, again

In the interview with ITV on Thursday, Sunak doubled down on claims this week that if Labour win power they would raise taxes by 2,000 pounds ($3,500 Cdn) per household.

Labour denies it has any such plan, and accused Sunak of lying for claiming the estimate came from the civil service, which has said it did not endorse it. The head of Britain’s statistical watchdog said on Thursday the Conservatives should be clearer about the source of Sunak’s claims.