British PM Rishi Sunak sparks outrage after leaving D-Day memorial early

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 with veterans in Normandy to fly back to London for a TV interview.

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

Sunak accused of ‘dereliction of duty’

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 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 a stand-in for the void left by his boss.

Labour leader Keir Starmer was in attendance, pictured chatting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

It later emerged that Sunak had given an interview after traveling home. “Today was the slot we were offered,” said ITV News presenter Paul Brand. “We don’t know why.”

“On reflection, that was a mistake and I apologize,” Sunak said Friday about his decision to return home.

“I think it’s important, though, given the enormity of the sacrifice made, that we don’t politicize this,” Sunak told broadcasters on the campaign trail, after initially apologizing in a post on X. “The focus should rightly be on the veterans who gave so much,” he said.

And yet in the eyes of many that damage had already been done.

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

Starmer said Sunak “will have to answer for his own actions” but that “for me, there was nowhere else I was going to be.” Ed Davey, leader of the centrist Liberal Democrats who are hoping to win some longtime Conservative seats, said Sunak had “abandoned” those who fought in Normandy with “a total dereliction of duty.”

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

His own Veterans Minister Johnny Mercer, a former soldier, described it as a “significant mistake.”

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