Rishi Sunak openly condemned by second cabinet minister over D-Day row as he cancels press event

Prime minister said to be despondent over furious backlash to his missing international event

Tara Cobham
Saturday 08 June 2024 19:30 BST
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Nigel Farage claims Rishi Sunak ‘not a patriotic leader’ after D-Day blunder

Rishi Sunak’s decision to skip a D-Day memorial has been openly criticised by a second cabinet minister before he then cancelled a press event as the row engulfing the prime minister over the blunder deepened.

Mr Sunak is said to be “despondent” over the backlash to him missing the international ceremony attended by other world leaders, including US president Joe Biden and French president Emmanuel Macron, to mark the 80th anniversary of the Allied landings.

The prime minister did not take media questions on Saturday’s campaign trail after his awkward exchange with broadcasters the previous day. A scheduled opportunity for reporters to quiz him did not take place as was originally planned, with the Conservatives calling off the “huddle” citing time constraints, as Mr Sunak toured County Durham and Yorkshire.

Rishi Sunak is claimed to be despondent over the furious backlash to his missing the international ceremony attended by other world leaders to mark the 80th anniversary of the Allied landings
Rishi Sunak is claimed to be despondent over the furious backlash to his missing the international ceremony attended by other world leaders to mark the 80th anniversary of the Allied landings (EPA)

Instead, the prime minister spoke with volunteers away from public view at a walled garden at Auckland Castle, Bishop Auckland, before attending a village fete in Great Ayton, a North Yorkshire village in his Richmond constituency.

It came just hours after another cabinet minister condemned Mr Sunak’s decision to leave Normany early on Thursday as a “mistake” as Tory anger at the move continued following the prime minister’s apology.

Speaking to BBC Breakfast on Saturday morning, Transport Secretary Mark Harper said: “People make mistakes. The prime minister has made a mistake. He’s apologised for it.”

He did not go quite as far as his cabinet colleague Penny Mordaunt, a Navy reservist, who branded Mr Sunak’s snub “completely wrong” during the BBC's fiery seven-way TV election debate on Friday evening. The Commons Leader added: “The prime minister has rightly apologised for that, apologised to veterans but also to all of us, because he was representing all of us.”

Broadcasters were met with silence as the prime minister spoke with volunteers away from public view at a walled garden at Auckland Castle, Bishop Auckland, on Saturday
Broadcasters were met with silence as the prime minister spoke with volunteers away from public view at a walled garden at Auckland Castle, Bishop Auckland, on Saturday (PA Wire)

The move prompted a fierce backlash from some Conservatives already nervous about their party’s electoral prospects and political rivals alike, with the outrage swelling after it emerged Mr Sunak had returned to the UK from France to record a General Election campaign TV interview.

Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey said people were “flabbergasted” by the prime minister’s decision, which was “such a letdown for our whole country and our history, particularly for our brave veterans”.

During a visit to Newbury on Saturday, he added: “I share the concerns of veterans and people across the country who feel really let down and are upset, and indeed some very angry.”

Labour’s Sir Keir Starmer said it was his “duty” to thank veterans at the D-Day event.

Transport Secretary Mark Harper condemned Mr Sunak’s decision to leave Normany early on Thursday as a ‘mistake’
Transport Secretary Mark Harper condemned Mr Sunak’s decision to leave Normany early on Thursday as a ‘mistake’ (PA Wire)

An anonymous source close to the prime minister told Bloomberg Mr Sunak has been left despondent at the reaction.

Cabinet ministers told the outlet his misstep had exacerbated their concerns about his judgement, with one former loyalist saying they regretted the Tories had not ousted him as prime minister earlier this year.

Several ministers went on to brand Mr Sunak’s decision to call a snap general election on 4 July a catastrophic mistake, believing he should have waited to first see if the economy improved. One minister feared the move could become one of the great miscalculations in British political history if it led to electoral defeat and then a takeover of the Conservative Party by Nigel Farage, with Mr Sunak potentially on track to being remembered as worse than Liz Truss, the report added.

Penny Mordaunt (right) branded Mr Sunak’s snub ‘completely wrong’ during the BBC's fiery seven-way TV election debate on Friday evening
Penny Mordaunt (right) branded Mr Sunak’s snub ‘completely wrong’ during the BBC's fiery seven-way TV election debate on Friday evening (Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire)

Mr Farage has loomed large over the Tory campaign this week after he announced on Monday he would stand as a candidate in Clacton, Essex, for Reform UK in the upcoming general election as well as his decision to takeover as leader of the party. Polls suggest Reform is gaining ground at the expense of the Tories.

After Ms Mordaunt told the debate audience that the D-Day gaffe should not become “a political football”, Mr Farage replied: “Well, it already is. It already is because the veterans themselves are speaking out saying he’s let the country down.”

The Tories have sought to move on from the row with new policy offers, including a pledge to axe stamp duty for first-time buyers on homes up to £425,000.

Sir Keir set out Labour’s plans for small businesses at a brewery in Camden alongside Dragons’ Den star Deborah Meaden on Saturday
Sir Keir set out Labour’s plans for small businesses at a brewery in Camden alongside Dragons’ Den star Deborah Meaden on Saturday (Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire)

They also set out their “Backing Drivers Bill” which would ban Wales-style blanket 20mph limits and reverse the Ultra Low Emission Zone (Ulez) expansion from inner into outer London.

Sir Keir set out Labour’s plans for small businesses, including an overhaul of the business rates system, at a brewery in Camden alongside Dragons’ Den star Deborah Meaden.

Sir Ed tried his hand at tennis in Newbury and visited an adventure golf course in Wokingham as he promoted the Lib Dems’ proposal to plough £50 million a year into maintaining three new national parks.

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