Mordaunt condemns Sunak as ‘wrong’ over D-Day as TV debate becomes ‘unedifying’ row

The seven-party television debate became a slanging match between Penny Mordaunt and Angela Rayner

David Maddox
Political editor
Friday 07 June 2024 22:10 BST
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Penny Mordaunt Responds to Rishi Sunak leaving D-Day commemorations early

Penny Mordaunt was forced to open the second televised election debate with an apology and admission that her leader Rishi Sunak was “wrong” over leaving the D-Day commemorations early in another bad night for the Tories.

But the Tory cabinet minister sought to make the seven-party event into a two-way fight between herself and Angela Rayner, who stood next to her in the line-up, in what another panellist SNP Westminster leader Stephen Flynn described as an “unedifying” row.

The lineup also included Liberal Democrat deputy leader Daisy Cooper, Plaid Cymru’s Rhun ap Iorwerth, Green Party co-leader Carla Denyer and Reform UK’s Nigel Farage.

From left, Reform UK leader Nigel Farage, leader of Plaid Cymru Rhun ap Iorwerth, Liberal Democrat deputy leader Daisy Cooper, Stephen Flynn of the SNP, co-leader of the Green Party Carla Denyer, deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner and Commons Leader Penny Mordaunt, take part in the BBC Election Debate hosted by BBC news presenter Mishal Husain (Stefan Rousseau/PA)
From left, Reform UK leader Nigel Farage, leader of Plaid Cymru Rhun ap Iorwerth, Liberal Democrat deputy leader Daisy Cooper, Stephen Flynn of the SNP, co-leader of the Green Party Carla Denyer, deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner and Commons Leader Penny Mordaunt, take part in the BBC Election Debate hosted by BBC news presenter Mishal Husain (Stefan Rousseau/PA) (PA Wire)

Ms Mordaunt was dealt a difficult hand ahead of the debate on the BBC tonight after the prime minister himself had to apologise to veterans for abandoning Thursday’s commemoration events early.

With Ms Mordaunt representing Portsmouth North, the home of the Royal Navy with many serving personnel and veterans in her constituency, she was forced to condemn what Mr Sunak had done.

She told the audience: “What happened was completely wrong, and the Prime Minister has rightly apologised for that, apologised to veterans but also to all of us, because he was representing all of us.

"I'm from Portsmouth, I have also been defence secretary and my wish is at the end of this week is that all of our veterans feel completely treasured."

Asked if she would have left Normandy early as Mr Sunak did on Thursday, Ms Mordaunt said: "I didn't go to D-Day, I think what happened was very wrong, I think the Prime Minister has apologised for that.

"But what I also think is important is we honour their legacy, they fought for our freedom, and unless we are spending the right amount on defence we can't honour that legacy."

Mordaunt and Rayner dominated the exchanges
Mordaunt and Rayner dominated the exchanges (BBC)

She later added: "I don't want this issue to become a political football."

Her opponents, though, latched on to the issue with gusto.

Mr Farage replied: "Well, it already is. It already is because the veterans themselves are speaking out saying he's let the country down."

But the moment of the debate came when the Lib Dems’ Daisy Cooper spoke about her grandfather’s experience on the Normandy beaches 80 years ago.

She said: “It was not only politically shameful but I think many of us feel personally insulted. I started yesterday morning watching a recording made by the Royal Mint of my late grandfather where he recounts catching his best friend who fell from the top of a Sherman tank who was shot in the head and as he waded through the water he recounted, in his words, men blown to pieces, hands, legs and heads.

“If he had been there yesterday and seen the prime minister walk away from him I would find that completely and utterly unforgivable."

Farage argues with the panellist from Plaid
Farage argues with the panellist from Plaid (BBC/AFP via Getty Images)

There was little positive reaction to the contenders from an audience, one of whom asked a question about why politicians do not keep their promises.

The first of a rare moment of applause during the debate, for Mr Flynn, saying Scotland does not have tuition fees for students. One of the others was for Mr Farage saying stop and search to stop knife crime needed to be introduced.

But Ms Mordaunt and Ms Rayner clearly aimed to cut out the other five with a series of angry exchanges of claim and counterclaim as they drowned out the other panellists.

Ms Mordaunt tried to use the claim that Labour will increase taxes by £2,000 but was reminded by the BBC’s Mishal Husain that the Treasury had distanced itself from the figure.

Ms Mordaunt also tried to use Ms Rayner’s past opposition to nuclear weapons to suggest that Vladimir Putin wants Labour to win.

Flynn got the first round of applause
Flynn got the first round of applause (BBC)

“Labour’s plans to tax your future pension, senior nurses and doctors, is going to get healthcare professionals to leave the service. That is going to lead to more waiting lists,” Ms Mordaunt said.

“Penny, that’s rubbish and you’ve just said we need a strong economy - you backed Liz Truss and crashed our economy,” Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner replied.

Ms Mordaunt added: “Angela Rayner’s party - Keir Starmer confirmed this earlier this week - they are going to put up your taxes by £2,000 per working household.”

The controversial figure has made headlines, with the Labour leader accusing Mr Sunak of lying about how the sum was calculated, and Ms Rayner also branded the allegation “a lie” during the debate.

Ms Mordaunt also tried to take the heat off the immigration question by attempting to turn it into a cost-of-living one which saw her only direct clash with Mr Farage. He reminded her what the question was. Instead, she suggested that he was wrong to call it “the immigration election” and argued it was “the cost of living election”.

Daisy Cooper recalls late grandfather’s horrific memories of D-Day.
Daisy Cooper recalls late grandfather’s horrific memories of D-Day. (BBC)

Meanwhile, the under-fire Tory minister road-tested a new attack line on Labour’s energy plans to create GB Energy.

Speaking at the seven-way BBC debate, Commons leader Ms Mordaunt said: “It’s not just your taxes that I’m worried about, I’m worried about my constituents being able to afford a Labour government.

“Angela mentioned GB Energy, do you know what the GB stands for? It stands for giant bills, and more bills are coming with the net zero plans that Labour have.”

Angela Rayner received applause from the audience at the BBC debate as she clashed with Penny Mordaunt over NHS waiting lists and claimed Liz Truss "crashed" the economy.

On reducing healthcare waiting lists, Ms Mordaunt said: "There are many things we need to do, but there are two really important things.

"We have to keep the budget strong. We need a strong economy."

She continued: "Labour's plans to tax your future pension, senior nurses and doctors, is going to get healthcare professionals to leave the service. That is going to lead to more waiting lists."

Ms Rayner responded: "Penny, that's rubbish and you've just said we need a strong economy - you backed Liz Truss and crashed our economy."

The studio audience applauded as Ms Rayner added: "You made people like me redundant when we were in the homecare service."

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