Party leaders to discuss support for veterans on Armed Forces Day

Party leaders will be on the election campaign trail on Armed Forces Day discussing defence and support for veterans.

But fallout is expected to continue from comments made by campaigners for Reform UK, as party leader Nigel Farage declined to apologise for their actions, and Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said he will “call out blatant racism”.

Campaigners for Mr Farage’s party were recorded making racist comments, including about the Prime Minister who is of Indian descent.

The footage, made by an undercover Channel 4 reporter, showed Reform campaigner Andrew Parker using a racist term about Mr Sunak and suggesting migrants should be used as “target practice”.

Mr Farage said that Mr Parker was an actor and denounced the expose as a “political set-up”.

On the campaign trail on Saturday, Mr Sunak will hail the “duty, dedication and selfless personal sacrifice” of servicemen and women and claim his is the only party to meet the Help for Heroes Veterans’ Pledge.

The pledge requires parties to commit to keeping the Office for Veterans’ Affairs, commissioning an independent review of the medical discharge process and ensuring veterans get the benefits and compensations they deserve.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak making a speech
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak making a speech at an event at Petyt Hall, London (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

Mr Sunak said: “It should be the first responsibility of any Government to support those who defend us.

“It’s why it’s so important that we get defence spending to 2.5% of GDP by 2030, and also why we must continue our mission to make the UK the best country in the world to be a veteran.

“In an increasingly dangerous world, our servicemen and women play an ever more critical role in keeping us safe. We each owe them and their families a huge amount, and on Armed Forces Day I pay personal tribute to everything they do for us and our country.”

Veterans minister Johnny Mercer said: “Only the Conservatives have a clear plan to support our armed forces and secure the future of our country. Don’t vote to let Starmer put us all in danger from Downing Street.”

The Conservatives also claim that Labour would “fail our armed forces and open up veterans deployed in Northern Ireland to endless prosecutions” with their commitment to scrapping the Legacy Act.

The Legacy Act – that would give immunity from prosecution to people who committed crimes during the Troubles if they co-operate with a truth recovery body – has been rejected by the five largest parties in Northern Ireland as well as victims and human rights organisations.

D-Day 80th anniversary
Veterans are greeted by crowds on the seafront in Arromanches, in Normandy, France, on the 80th anniversary of the D-Day landings (Jane Barlow/PA)

Meanwhile, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer will pledge to introduce a new armed forces commissioner and lead a “government of service” if Labour is elected.

The commissioner role will aim to champion those who serve by investigating issues such as substandard housing, faulty kit and poor discharge support, the party said.

Sir Keir said: “Labour is deeply proud of our armed forces personnel, veterans, and their families for the contribution they make to our country.

“Theirs is the ultimate public service – and their professionalism and bravery is rightly respected across the world.

“As we mark Armed Forces Day, I am proud to say that if we are privileged to serve, my Labour government will demonstrate our respect and thanks, in action for our forces communities.

“We will legislate in our first year for an Armed Forces Commissioner to act as a strong champion for our forces and their families. The commissioner will help to renew the moral contract with those who serve our nation, and the families who support them.”

Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer on a Second World War landing craft
Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer on a Second World War landing craft speaking to veteran Lieutenant Commander Len Chivers, 99, during a visit to Portsmouth (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

Meanwhile, Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey has reiterated their manifesto pledge to reverse cuts to numbers in the armed forces and their “ambition” to increase defence spending to 2.5% of GDP.

Sir Ed said: “Today is a day to express our gratitude to every single person who is serving or has served in our armed forces.

“Each one of them has given so much in order to keep us all safe and they deserve a fair deal, worthy of the sacrifices they and their families have made.

“That is why I and the Liberal Democrats are proud to have put forward a manifesto that would give veterans, their families, and those serving the resources and the support that they deserve and need to keep us safe.”