Rishi Sunak apologizes for leaving D-Day events early for election interview

June 7, 2024
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LONDON — Eighty years after Sir Winston Churchill helped mastermind the D-Day landings, a British prime minister was under fire Friday for leaving anniversary events early to return to the campaign trail of an election he looks likely to lose.

Already embattled and unpopular, Rishi Sunak cut short his time in Normandy to fly back to London for a TV interview that wasn’t due to be broadcast until next week.

He has now apologized for what he said was a “mistake,” but not before his decision to head home early saw him assailed by criticism from his own allies as well as his political enemies.

When the time came for world leaders to line up for an official photo, President Joe Biden and his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron were left to pose with Britain’s foreign minister, David Cameron, a former prime minister but nonetheless an awkward stand-in for the void left by his boss.

Sunak is fighting for his political life, with his Conservatives trailing the opposition Labour Party by upward of 20 points in some opinion polls ahead of a July 4 national election. If confirmed at the ballot box, this gulf in support would hand the ruling party a defeat so heavy that it could border on annihilation.

Sunak made the decision to call the surprise early vote himself, meaning the commemorations for D-Day fell in the heart of the campaign.

The prime minister did travel to France to join King Charles III, Macron and others at a British-led memorial Thursday morning, honoring the 60,000 or so British troops who joined thousands more from Canada and the United States in the invasion that helped turn the tide against Nazi Germany.

But he delegated his other duties to ministers including Cameron, while Labour leader Keir Starmer was pictured chatting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

British media reported that Sunak had traveled home to give an interview to ITV News.

For many observers this was an unthinkable gaffe that may overshadow Sunak’s longshot bid to hold on to power.

The left-leaning tabloid The Daily Mirror splashed ‘PM DITCHES D-DAY’ on its front page.

Labour accused Sunak of a “dereliction of duty.” And Ed Davey, the leader of the centrist Liberal Democrats who are hoping to win some core Conservative seats, said Sunak had “abandoned” those who fought in the bloody battle of Normandy.

“One of the greatest privileges of the office of prime minister is to be there to honor those who served, yet Rishi Sunak abandoned them on the beaches of Normandy,” Davey said Friday morning, according to the PA news agency.

“He has brought shame to that office and let down our country.”

The criticism was hardly less scathing from some on Sunak’s own side.

“It was a huge error of judgment,” Cameron’s former advisor Craig Oliver posted on X. By leaving Normandy early, Sunak gave the impression “he put politics before what really matters” and allowed “his opponents to suggest he doesn’t care.”



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