Election campaign day 16: Rishi Sunak apologises for D-Day blunder

Day 16 of the General Election campaign was dominated by the fallout from Rishi Sunak’s decision to skip a major international ceremony to mark the 80th anniversary of the Allied landings in order to take part in a TV interview as part of his push for votes.

– Sunak says sorry for snub

The Prime Minister was forced to apologise for leaving D-Day memorial events early amid a fierce backlash from political rivals and some fellow Conservatives already nervous about their party’s electoral prospects.

The outrage had swelled after it emerged that Mr Sunak had snubbed a gathering of world leaders, including US President Joe Biden, so he could record an interview with ITV which will air next week.

On Friday morning, he took the unusual step of issuing an apology for his “mistake”, which he repeated in an awkward exchange with broadcasters on the campaign trail later in the day.

Mr Sunak insisted he “stuck to the itinerary that had been set for me as Prime Minister weeks ago”, suggesting he had never intended to go to the centrepiece of the D-Day commemorations, even before he called the election.

“On reflection, that was a mistake and I apologise”, Mr Sunak said, as he urged people not to “politicise this”.

A stinging rebuke came from Normandy veteran Ken Hay, 98, who said “he lets the country down”, while political opponents seized on Mr Sunak’s actions.

Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey said the snub had “brought shame” to the office of Prime Minister, as Reform UK leader Nigel Farage said of Mr Sunak “he basically is not a patriotic leader of the Conservative Party”.

Labour’s Sir Keir Starmer, who stayed on in France to mingle with Mr Biden, French President Emmanuel Macron and Ukraine’s leader Volodymyr Zelensky, said Mr Sunak “will have to answer for his own actions”, but “for me there was nowhere else I was going to be”.

Rishi Sunak during a visit to Great Oldbury Primary Academy
Rishi Sunak raises his hand during a maths lesson at Great Oldbury Primary Academy in Stonehouse, Gloucestershire (Jacob King/PA)

– Squirming Penny

The debacle leaves Commons Leader Penny Mordaunt, a Navy reservist, in a tricky spot as she faces off against deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner, Mr Farage and others in a seven-way BBC debate on Friday evening.

It certainly gives the leader of Reform UK, which hopes to eat into Tory support, plenty of ammunition in the showdown.

Also taking part are Liberal Democrat deputy leader Daisy Cooper, SNP Westminster leader Stephen Flynn, Greens co-leader Carla Denyer and Rhun ap Iorwerth, the head of Plaid Cymru.

The BBC also announced it will be airing Panorama interviews with Mr Sunak and Mr Farage on June 10 and June 11 respectively, with programmes with other party leaders agreed, although Sir Keir has not yet accepted his invitation.

– Manifesto rubber-stamping

Labour’s election manifesto was waived through in a highly secretive Clause V meeting in central London, paving the way for its official launch next week.

The finer points of Labour’s policy document have been kept tightly under wraps after 2017’s draft manifesto was leaked, with attendees of the gathering only told its location on Friday morning.

General Election campaign 2024
Sir Keir Starmer promoting Labour’s ‘freedom to buy’ scheme during a visit to a north London housing development (James Manning/PA)

But Sir Keir confirmed during a campaign visit that a pledge to recognise Palestinian statehood as part of any Middle East peace process will be included.

The manifesto will be based on the party’s five missions for government announced last year on the economy, the NHS, energy, education and planning reform.

– The final countdown

The Tories dropped one of their parliamentary candidates just hours before nominations for the General Election closed at 4pm after receiving a complaint about his conduct.

Jaymey McIvor is no longer the Conservative candidate for the previously Tory-held Hemel Hempstead seat after the party flagged “an anonymous complaint against his prior conduct which requires investigation”. He was replaced by councillor Andrew Williams.

Parties have been scrambling to sort candidates into seats since Mr Sunak called the surprise election last month, with selection rows plaguing both the Tories and Labour.

Lists of names could be published at 5pm, although the deadline for publication is at 4pm on Monday in case there are any objections.

– Child benefits bungle

The children’s minister admitted not knowing how much child benefit is worth in a faltering radio interview to promote the Tories’ election offer to parents to raise the high-income child benefit tax charge threshold to £120,000.

David Johnston said he “should have found out before I came on here”, when he was asked for the figure on LBC.

It led to a Labour attack on the “reckless and out-of-touch Tory Government, who aren’t even across the details of their own policies”.

– Picture of the day

The Tory battle bus parked on Veterans Way
The Tory battle bus parked on Veterans Way in Stonehouse after Rishi Sunak’s perceived snub of veterans by leaving the 80th D-Day anniversary ceremonies in Normandy early on Thursday (Jacob King/PA)

– Number of the day

– Quote of the day

– Social media moment

Opposition parties took jabs at Mr Sunak over his D-Day decision, with Labour contrasting it with the Prime Minister’s pledge to require 18-year-olds to do national service.

On TikTok, Labour posted the text: “Rishi Sunak wants you to do a full year of national service…”, followed by a clipping from the Daily Mirror newspaper with the headline: “PM ditches D-Day.” Labour wrote over the top: “He couldn’t even manage an afternoon.”

The Lib Dems shared an edited photo to X, formerly Twitter, of Mr Biden, Mr Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz on Omaha Beach next to an empty silhouette where Foreign Secretary Lord Cameron had been stood instead of the Prime Minister.

– What’s happening tomorrow

Mr Sunak is campaigning in Yorkshire, while Sir Keir and Sir Ed are also hitting the campaign trail.

Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar is campaigning in Lewis, SNP leader John Swinney is in Livingston and the Scottish Conservatives are in Glasgow.