Rishi Sunak apologizes for skipping a D-Day ceremony to return to the election campaign trail


British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak walks to visit the Imagination Childcare children’s centre during a Conservative general election campaign event in Swindon, Britain, June 7, 2024.
| Photo Credit: REUTERS

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak apologized Friday for leaving D-Day commemorations in France early to return to the election campaign trail — a decision slammed as disgraceful by his political rivals.

Mr. Sunak, who is fighting to keep his job in Britain’s July 4 election, said that, “on reflection” the decision was a mistake.

Mr. Sunak was not alongside leaders including U.S. President Joe Biden, French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelenskyy for the major memorial event at Omaha Beach in Normandy on Thursday. Former Prime Minister David Cameron, who is now foreign minister, represented the U.K.

Labour Party leader Keir Starmer, the current favorite to win the election, attended and was pictured meeting Mr. Zelensky and other leaders.

Earlier in the day, Mr. Sunak had attended a ceremony at the British memorial in Normandy alongside King Charles III and surviving World War II veterans. He also attended a commemoration in Portsmouth, England, the day before.

Mr. Sunak wrote on X, formerly Twitter, that the 80th anniversary of the Allied invasion that helped free Europe from the Nazis “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.”

Also read: Sunak and Starmer clash over tax and health in a debate as disruptor Farage roils the U.K. election

He added: “On reflection, it was a mistake not to stay in France longer — and I apologise.”

The prime minister recorded an interview with broadcaster ITV on Thursday after returning from France. A clip released by the broadcaster showed Mr. Sunak denying opposition allegations that he lied by making inaccurate statements about the opposition Labour Party’s tax plans.

Mr. Starmer said “Rishi Sunak will have to answer for his choice” to return to campaigning.

“For me there was only one choice… There was nowhere else I was going to be,” Mr. Starmer told broadcasters.

Liberal Democrat leader Ed Davey said it was “a total dereliction of duty.”

Nigel Farage, leader of the populist Reform U.K. party, said “patriotic people who love their country” should not vote for Sunak. Mr. Farage is seeking to siphon off Conservative voters with his populist, anti-immigration positions. He is sure to raise the D-Day episode in a seven-party televised debate later Friday. All the main parties will be represented, though Mr. Sunak and Mr. Starmer are not due to take part.

Craig Oliver, who was communications director to Cameron’s Conservative government, said “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.”

All 650 seats in the House of Commons are up for grabs on July 4. The leader of the party that can command a majority — either alone or in coalition — will become prime minister.

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