Rishi Sunak avoids media questions as D-Day snub criticism continues

Rishi Sunak appeared to be ducking media questions on Saturday’s campaign trail as criticism continued over his early return from D-Day commemorations in Normandy.

An opportunity for reporters to quiz the Prime Minister did not take place as was originally planned, with the Tories citing time constraints, as he toured County Durham and Yorkshire.

He 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.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak tours the gardens during a visit to the Big Help Out project in Bishop Auckland
Rishi Sunak tours a walled garden during a visit to the Big Help Out project in Bishop Auckland (Phil Nobel/PA)

A possible “huddle” with journalists was called off as the D-Day row continued, and after his awkward exchange with broadcasters on Friday.

It came after another Cabinet minister said Mr Sunak had made a “mistake” by skipping a major D-Day event amid Tory anger over the move.

Mark Harper said he agreed “with what the Prime Minister himself said – it was a mistake for him to leave early”, but did not go as far as fellow senior Conservative Penny Mordaunt in branding the decision “completely wrong”.

Mr Sunak was forced to apologise for leaving France before an international ceremony attended by world leaders including US President Joe Biden to mark the 80th anniversary of the Allied landings.

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

“I share the concerns of veterans and people across the country who feel really let down and are upset, and indeed some very angry,” he told the PA news agency during a visit to Newbury.

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

Mr Harper repeated the Prime Minister’s suggestion it had always been his intention to leave before the international event on Omaha Beach, even before he called the election.

The Transport Secretary told BBC Breakfast on Saturday: “I don’t know what the detail was of putting the Prime Minister’s schedule together, which, as he said, was done some time ago before the election campaign was called.

“But look, it was a mistake. People make mistakes. The Prime Minister has made a mistake. He’s apologised for it. And he’s apologised to those that would have been particularly hurt by it.”

Ms Mordaunt, a Navy reservist, told a seven-way BBC debate on Friday: “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.”

The Commons Leader is seen as a potential successor to Mr Sunak as Tory leader, although she is projected to lose her Portsmouth North seat at the election.

Sir Ed Davey playing tennis at Victoria Park Tennis, Newbury, Berkshire while on the General Election campaign trail
Sir Ed Davey playing tennis at Victoria Park Tennis in Newbury (Will Durrant/PA)

After she said the issue should not become “a political football”, Reform UK leader Nigel 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.

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.