Sunak ‘lets country down’ by skipping D-Day event, says Normandy veteran

A Normandy veteran accused Rishi Sunak of letting the country down by leaving the D-Day 80th anniversary events early to record a General Election campaign TV interview.

The Prime Minister apologised for his decision to leave Normandy before a major international ceremony to mark the anniversary of the Allied landings but urged people not to politicise the event.

He admitted that “on reflection” he should have stayed for the event where world leaders including US President Joe Biden marked the sacrifice made by troops landing on the Normandy beaches in 1944.

But 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.”

He told Sky News: “He lets the country down.

“It’s not the representation of how we’re trying to weld things together to keep the peace.”

The veteran suggested Mr Sunak had decided to “bail out, let them get on with it because ‘I want to stand in the election, I want my seat back’”.

Mr Sunak issued an apology over social media and repeated it in an awkward exchange with broadcasters during a General Election campaign event in Wiltshire.

He suggested it had always been his intention to leave before the international ceremony on Omaha Beach, even before he called the General Election.

“I’m someone who will always admit when I’ve made a mistake,” he said.

“I stuck to the itinerary that had been set for me as Prime Minister weeks ago, before the election,” he told broadcasters.

Mr Sunak said that having participated in “all the British events with British veterans I returned home before the international leaders’ event later in the day”.

He said: “On reflection, that was a mistake. And I apologise. I think it’s important though, given the enormity of the sacrifice made, the focus should rightly be on the veterans who gave so much.”

But the Prime Minister added: “People can judge me by my actions when it comes to supporting the armed forces.”

He highlighted the Tory commitment to spend 2.5% on defence by 2030 and his support for veterans.

Foreign Secretary Lord David Cameron represented the UK Government at the international event, while Mr Sunak’s rival for the keys to No 10, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, was also there rubbing shoulders with world leaders.

Mr Sunak was challenged on what it said about him that his election rival stayed in France while he did not.

“On reflection, it was a mistake not to stay longer and I apologise for that,” he repeated.

“But I also don’t think it’s right to be political in the midst of D-Day commemorations. The focus should rightly be on the veterans and their service and sacrifice for our country.”

The Prime Minister denied as “simply not right” reports he had considered missing the Normandy elements of the D-Day anniversary commemorations entirely.

The Prime Minister left France to record an ITV General Election interview which will air next week.

The broadcaster said the timing of the interview was suggested by the Conservative Party.

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.

He suggested that Mr Sunak’s team should take a share of the blame for their advice to him.

“Obviously it’s a mistake.

“The PM on these visits receives a lot of advice on what he should and shouldn’t be doing,” he said.

The Prime Minister’s actions caused unease within a Tory party already nervous about its General Election prospects on July 4.

His actions were seized on by political opponents, not least Reform UK which hopes to eat into Tory support.

Reform’s leader Nigel Farage said he helped raise £100,000 for the Taxi Charity to send veterans back to Normandy but “Rishi Sunak could not even be bothered to attend the international event above Omaha Beach”.

Questioning Mr Sunak’s patriotism, he added: “Who really believes in our people, him or me?”

Sir Keir said Mr Sunak “will have to answer for his own actions” in leaving Normandy ahead of the international D-Day event but “for me there was nowhere else I was going to be”.

He told reporters on a visit to a housing development in Brent Cross: “It was my duty to be there, it was my privilege to be there.”

Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey said Mr Sunak’s actions had brought “shame” to the office of Prime Minister “and let down our country”.

Published: by Radio NewsHub