Home » UK’s Sunak apologises for leaving D-Day event early for TV interview

UK’s Sunak apologises for leaving D-Day event early for TV interview

After widespread criticism, prime minister says decision to skip ceremony in France was a ‘mistake’.

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has apologised for leaving international D-Day commemorations in France early so he could do a television interview as part of his campaign for the United Kingdom’s election next month.

The leader of the ruling Conservative Party posted an apology on X on Friday after coming in for intense criticism from across the political spectrum for ducking out from the ceremony the previous day.

“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,” he said.

World leaders including Sunak, United States President Joe Biden and French President Emmanuel Macro, had gathered on Thursday in Normandy, northern France, to mark the 80th anniversary of the allied landings, a turning point in World War II.

Sunak spoke at a British-led event at Ver-sur-Mer but delegated other duties to ministers including Foreign Secretary David Cameron, who was pictured with Biden, Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz at a later memorial ceremony at Omaha beach, in Saint-Laurent-sur-Mer.

News reports said Sunak left France early in order to conduct an interview with British broadcaster ITV News that is not due to air until Wednesday.

The Conservative Party is lagging about 20 points behind the main opposition Labour Party in opinion polls ahead of the July 4 election.

US President Joe Biden, right, talks to German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, second right, French President Emmanuel Macron, back, and British Foreign Secretary David Cameron, left, in Saint-Laurent-sur-Mer [Virginia Mayo/AP Photo]

The Conservatives’ political opponents were quick to criticise Sunak for leaving early.

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

Labour leader Keir Starmer also attended events in Normandy on Thursday where he met Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

Meanwhile, Ed Davey, leader of the Liberal Democrats, said on X that Sunak had committed “a total 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,” he said on X.

Labour’s Jess Phillips, standing for the Birmingham Yardley constituency, said on X that the prime minister was “dripping … in privilege”. “He shouldn’t have been concerned with how it looked, he should have just known that it would be an actual insult to actual people who on this day matter more than him,” she said in another post.

In his defence, Sunak said in his statement of apology that he cared deeply about veterans. “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.”

However, some observers pointed out that with the Conservative leader recently pledging to introduce mandatory military or civilian national service for all 18-year-olds, his decision to ditch the commemoration of an historic military event in which his country played such a prominent role could be seen as out-of-touch with voters’ sensibilities.

Sunak’s apparent miscalculation could also see him bleeding support from traditional Conservative voters. On the BBC’s Newsnight on Thursday, influential Tory commentator Tim Montgomerie, co-founder of centre-right think tank the Centre for Social Justice, pointed out that the event would be the “last commemoration where survivors … will be present”, accusing Sunak of “political malpractice of the highest order”.