Rishi Sunak leaving D-Day ceremony early 'angering voters on doorstep'

Prime minister said leaving before the international memorial event was a mistake but called for his decision to 'not be politicised'. Political Editor Robert Peston on the topic dominating Friday's campaigning

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak's decision to leave D-Day commemorations in France early is getting "real cut-through" with voters, one senior cabinet minister told ITV News.

"The prime minister leaving Normandy earlier came up on the doorstep often today and at lunch my team rated the anger at seven out of 10. This is getting real cut-through," the minister told ITV News Political Editor Robert Peston.

Mr Sunak has apologised for leaving D-Day commemorations early on Thursday in order to do an interview with ITV's Tonight programme.

The prime minister had been criticised for his decision to skip the major international ceremony to mark the 80th anniversary of D-Day on Thursday, with Foreign Secretary David Cameron standing in for him.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer says Rishi Sunak will “have to answer for his own actions” following the controversy, telling broadcasters “for me there was nowhere else I was going to be.”

In a YouGov survey, two-thirds of participants (65%) believe that Sunak leaving was either " somewhat unacceptable" or "completely unacceptable". Just one in five voters thought it was "somewhat acceptable" or "completely acceptable."

The prime minister apologised again on Friday for having left early, but highlighted that he had participated in "all the British events with British veterans"

Speaking during a visit in Greater London on Friday, the Labour leader said: “Rishi Sunak will have to answer for his choice. For me there was only one choice, which was to be there, to pay my respects, to say thank you and to have to speak to those veterans.”

In a statement on X, formerly Twitter, Mr Sunak issued a full apology: "The 80th anniversary of D-Day has been a profound moment to honour the brave men and women who put their lives on the line to protect our values, our freedom and our democracy.

“Rishi Sunak will have to answer for his choice," Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said in response to the prime minister leaving D-Day events early on Thursday to do an interview with ITV

"This anniversary 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.

"I care deeply about veterans and have been honoured to represent the UK at a number of events in Portsmouth and France over the past two days and to meet those who fought so bravely.

"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."

ITV News UK Editor Paul Brand, who carried out the interview Mr Sunak, said that the team did not specifically request to speak to the prime minister on Thursday.

"We've been asking the prime minister for an interview for a while now, we're profiling all the leaders on the ITV Tonight programme.

"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 News UK Editor Paul Brand said it was "not our choice" to interview the prime minister on the same day as the D-Day ceremony

Speaking on Friday morning, Rishi Sunak said "the itinerary for these events was set weeks ago before the start of the General Election campaign" and said that he has participated in a number of events in Portsmouth and France.

"Having participated in all the British events with British veterans, I returned home before the international leaders' event," he added.

The prime minister did not attend the international ceremony in Normandy on Thursday but had attended the British ceremony earlier in the day, where he lay a wreath at the World War II British Normandy Memorial of Ver-sur-Mer.

People picked up on the fact that a school visited by Mr Sunak on Friday was located on Veterans Way

One Normandy veteran accused the prime minister of letting the country down over his decision to leave the D-Day ceremony.

Ken Hay, 98, who was captured as a prisoner of war just weeks after D-Day said: “I don’t have a great regard for politicians.”

Mr Sunak visited a school on a road called Veterans Way in his second election campaign visit of the day on Friday.

The prime minister joined children’s lessons across several year groups at the school, which opened in September 2021.

Conservative Party candidates told ITV News Political Correspondent Harry Horton how they felt about the prime minister's decision to leave before the international commemoration event

Earlier in the day he had visited a nursery in Swindon, where he dug in a sandbox, potted flowers, and played with water and seashells.

“This is great,” the prime minister said as he poured dyed-blue water out of a shell.

“He lets the country down. It’s not the representation of how we’re trying to weld things together to keep the peace,” Mr Hay told Sky News.

Mixed responses from the Conservatives

Foreign Secretary David Cameron said that Rishi Sunak "didn't leave early" and did attend the "crucial" commemoration above Gold Beach, where he "met a lot of veterans".

"He was at all the events with the British veterans, but had a long-standing plan to leave after that," he told broadcasters in Oxford.

"This morning he's tweeted and said that on reflection, he regrets not staying in France for longer and has apologised... I think that's the sort of person Rishi Sunak is, he's very frank he's very clear - quite happy to own up when he thinks he's made the wrong judgement," Lord Cameron said.

Reform UK leader Nigel Farage said Rishi Sunak's decision to leave early "shows how disconnected from ordinary folk he is"

Veterans’ minister Johnny Mercer said he understood the “outrage” at the prime minister’s actions.

“I get the outrage. It’s a mistake. It’s a significant mistake for which he’s apologised,” Mr Mercer told the Sun.

Ian Acheson, an advisor to Michael Gove, has reportedly gone as far as to quit over the incident, describing Mr Sunak's behaviour as "an act of either colossal stupidity or cynical calculation".

“Either way, it revealed to me that while I still embrace a conservative philosophy, I am no longer willing to have it outsourced to a bunch of mendacious, incompetent and disreputable clowns," Mr Acheson wrote in a resignation letter, according to reports by The Telegraph.

SNP, Lib Dems and Labour react

Scotland’s First Minister John Swinney branded the prime minister’s decision to leave the D-Day commemorations in Normandy early a “breathtakingly terrible decision”.

He said it was a “foolish decision to turn his back on the D-Day commemorations”.

Shadow Paymaster General Jonathan Ashworth said: “The prime minister skipping off early from D-Day commemorations to record a television interview where he once again lied through his teeth is both an embarrassment and a total dereliction of duty.

The prime minister had been criticised for his decision to skip the major international ceremony to mark the 80th anniversary of D-Day on Thursday, ITV News Political Correspondent Shehab Khan reports

“Our country deserves so much better than out-of-touch, desperate Rishi Sunak and his chaotic Tory Party.”

The event in Normandy was also an opportunity for Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer to mingle with world leaders on the global stage.

Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey said Mr Sunak’s actions had brought shame to the office of prime minister.

Foreign Secretary David Cameron stood in for Rishi Sunak in a photo with other world leaders at the D-Day commemorations. Credit: PA

“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,” Sir Ed said.

Mr Sunak's interview with ITV's Tonight was the first full broadcast response to the claims he had made about tax during the ITV News debate on Tuesday.

He denied Keir Starmer's accusation that the prime minister lied about Labour's tax plans, and asked whether he was willing to lie in order to stay in power, Mr Sunak said "No".

A clip of the ITV Tonight programme with Rishi Sunak was shown on News at Ten on Thursday, and the full interview with be broadcast next week.

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