Home » PM apologises for leaving D-Day commemorations early

PM apologises for leaving D-Day commemorations early

By Jennifer McKiernanPolitical reporter, BBC News

Sunak apologises for missing some of D-Day commemoration

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has apologised after a backlash for leaving D-Day commemorations in France early.

In what is widely seen as the biggest gaffe of the general election campaign so far, Mr Sunak has been accused of dereliction of duty for leaving an event held to honour the 80th anniversary of the Normandy landings early.

While world leaders, including US President Joe Biden, gathered on Thursday to pay their respects, Mr Sunak left Foreign Secretary David Cameron to deputise for him and travelled back to the UK.

Speaking to reporters about the decision to leave after attending a British event, the prime minister said: “On reflection, that was a mistake and I apologise.”

Mr Sunak said his itinerary for D-Day events had been set “weeks ago” and he had attended other events with veterans, including in Portsmouth.

He said: “Having participated in all the British events with British veterans I returned home before the international leaders event later in the day.

“On reflection, that was a mistake and I apologise.”

The prime minister also apologised on X, saying he hoped the “ultimate sacrifice” made by those who put their lives on the line would not be “overshadowed by politics”.

In the BBC’s first election debate on Friday evening, Conservative Penny Mordaunt called Mr Sunak’s decision to leave “completely wrong” and said he was right to apologise.

The D-Day commemorations included a British event at Ver sur Mer, which the prime minister and King Charles attended, but Mr Sunak left before the international commemoration on Omaha Beach.

In contrast, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer stayed at the event until the end, the party has confirmed, suggesting Mr Sunak returned in order to record an interview with ITV.

Labour’s Jonathan Ashworth said: “In choosing to prioritise his own vanity TV appearances over our veterans, Rishi Sunak has shown what is most important to him.”

Sir Keir said he was “struck” by how difficult had been for veterans to get there but how many made the effort to stand up from wheelchairs to salute the King.

He said: “I thought it was really important for me to be there to pay my respects to them and to those that did not return and actually to say thank you.

“Rishi Sunak will have to answer for his own actions. For me, there was nowhere else I was going to be.”

Foreign Secretary David Cameron, who took Mr Sunak’s place alongside world leaders for the international event, defended the PM for being “frank”.

On Mr Sunak’s departure following the British event, Lord Cameron said: “He had a longstanding plan to return after that – and we are in the middle of an election campaign so that’s not surprising.

“But then, on reflection, he said he wished he had stayed for the later event and I think that’s a credit to him, that he has been so frank about it.”

Veterans Minister Johnny Mercer said veterans “will feel pretty raw” – and added that “personally it’s a bit crushing” but he would stand by the PM.

He said: “I think he’s done the right thing to apologise – it is a mistake, it shouldn’t have happened.

“Obviously people will want to turn this into a political issue and jump all over him. I’m not going to join that crowd.

“I think people do make mistakes, this was a mistake. He’s accepted that and he’s apologised and I will continue to fight for him.”

He asked for people to remember government decisions on veterans’ issues, including on Northern Ireland legacy prosecutions, and claimed Mr Sunak and his wife have been “deeply committed to this over many years”.

But 90-year-old Muriel from Carlisle, whose father was fighting in Italy on D-Day, told BBC Radio 5 Live she was “absolutely disgusted” with Mr Sunak and his departure had left her in tears.

She said: “He’s our prime minister, he was representing me. I just think it’s so wrong.

“I sat and watched it from half past seven and I was in tears for a lot of the time, and I just think it was dreadful.

“If he expects me to vote for him again, he can forget it.”

Jack Hemmings, 102, a World War Two pilot who travelled to Normandy for the commemorations told the BBC Mr Sunak’s early departure was “a wrong decision”.

“He opted to put an election before the thousands who were killed.”

Mr Hemmings. who is a Liberal Democrat member, served with 353 Squadron and flew the Lockheed Hudson in the maritime patrol role to protect the Bay of Bengal from Japanese invasion.

Reuters Lord Cameron with French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and US President Joe BidenReuters
A graphic which reads 'more on general election 2024'

Tim Montgomerie, the founder of Conservative Home, told BBC Newsnight that leaving the commemorations for an interview would be “indefensible”.

He said: “I want to put my head in my hands… If he came back for a political interview from the D-Day commemorations that is indefensible.”

Former Downing Street communications chief Sir Craig Oliver accused Mr Sunak of “not getting what it is to be a prime minister” on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, pointing out that D-Day should have been blocked out despite the general election.

He said: “It’s a very important moment for the country, but it’s also a very important moment to show that you’re being prime ministerial.

“And the problem for Rishi Sunak this morning is he’s accused of not getting what it is to be a prime minister and what his duties are as a prime minister.”

Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey called the decision “a dereliction of duty”.

“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.

“It is a total dereliction of duty and shows why this Conservative government just has to go.”

Reform Party leader Nigel Farage posted on X to say he was “honoured” to help raise money for veterans to attend the event in Normandy.

“Rishi Sunak could not even be bothered to attend the international event above Omaha Beach,” he said, adding “Who really believes in our people, him or me?”

The BBC has contacted CCHQ for comment.