Home » British PM Rishi Sunak apologizes for skipping D-Day commemorations to campaign for election | CNN

British PM Rishi Sunak apologizes for skipping D-Day commemorations to campaign for election | CNN


London
CNN
 — 

Britain’s Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has apologized for leaving the 80th anniversary commemorations of D-Day early in order to film a TV interview, a decision that prompted incredulity and further derailed his floundering general election campaign.

Sunak attended the first part of the commemorative events in Normandy, France, on Thursday, but skipped the international ceremony at Omaha Beach, which was attended by other world leaders and veterans of the Allied operation in 1944.

“The last thing I want is for the commemorations to be overshadowed by politics,” Sunak wrote in a long apology on X. “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.”

But the move had already caused anger and disbelief in Britain, and represented another major miscalculation in Sunak’s faltering election campaign.

Sunak left the event to record a campaign interview with broadcaster ITV, the network confirmed, in which he defended claims about the opposition Labour Party’s tax plans which fact-checkers and a senior civil servant have said were misleading or inaccurate.

More than 20 heads of state and government, and representatives from royal families across Europe, attended the international ceremony, which took place on a day of commemoration 80 years after the Allied beach landings in Nazi-occupied France laid the groundwork for the defeat of Germany in World War II.

“Look, I get the outrage. I get that this is a significant mistake,” Sunak’s own veterans minister, Johnny Mercer, told UK newspaper The Sun on Friday, while also attacking what he labelled as “faux outrage” from Sunak’s critics.

The UK was represented at the international ceremony by David Cameron, Sunak’s foreign secretary and a former prime minister, who took photographs alongside French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and US President Joe Biden.

Also in attendance was Labour leader Keir Starmer, who was filmed speaking with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky during the event. Labour was quick to condemn Sunak’s decision to skip the events, and the gaffe dominated British news coverage of the election on Friday.

Speaking to reporters on Friday, Sunak said that his leaving early was a “mistake,” but added that “it’s important though, given the enormity of the sacrifice made, that we don’t politicize this.”

“The focus should rightly be on the veterans who gave so much,” he said, before stating that he “will always be proud of our record in supporting veterans here in the UK.”

Sunak’s campaign began with a rain-soaked speech outside Downing Street and has been beset by questionable decision-making and optically damaging events, all while failing to shift a cavernous poll deficit – but Thursday’s D-Day error felt like the most perplexing and detrimental moment of the campaign so far.

He was already batting back accusations from Labour that he lied about the cost of the opposition party’s tax plans – a topic in the debate he filmed with ITV on Thursday night. The UK Treasury flatly contradicted Sunak’s claim in a TV debate Tuesday that its impartial officials had calculated Labour plans would “put up everyone’s taxes by £2,000.” Labour’s policy manifesto has not yet been published, and the party says its agenda is fully costed.

Labour leader Keir Starmer greets Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky during the international ceremony.

ITV News said its team had not specifically requested to speak to the prime minister on Thursday, and that the date was in fact put forward by Sunak’s team, despite it falling on the anniversary of D-Day.

“Today was the slot that we were offered, we don’t know why. Obviously it’s not our choice, but he certainly returned from Normandy ready to dive back into the campaign,” ITV’s UK Editor Paul Brand, who carried out the interview, stated in an ITV report on Thursday night.

“Yesterday’s D-Day commemorations were about remembering the bravery of all those who serve our country,” Jonathan Ashworth, Labour’s Shadow Paymaster General, said Friday. “In choosing to prioritise his own vanity TV appearances over our veterans, Rishi Sunak has shown what is most important to him.”

Sunak is projected to lose the election on July 4 to Labour by a hefty margin, and his campaign has failed to land a decisive moment that could swing opinion polls in his favor.

In recent days his efforts were dealt a further blow when Nigel Farage, an architect of Brexit and a populist thorn in the side of numerous Conservative leaders, announced he would lead the Reform Party’s campaign, directly appealing to right-leaning Tory backers to abandon Sunak and vote for his insurgent group.

Farage also leapt on Sunak’s lapse in judgment, writing on X that the Prime Minister “could not even be bothered to attend the international event above Omaha Beach.” In another post, he added: “Patriotic people who love their country should not vote for him.”