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Rishi Sunak apologizes for skipping a D-Day ceremony to return to the election campaign trail


LONDON (AP) — British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak apologized Friday for leaving D-Day commemorations in France early to return to the election campaign trail — a decision slammed as disgraceful by his political rivals.

Sunak, who is fighting to keep his job in Britain’s July 4 election, said that, “on reflection” the decision was a mistake.

Sunak was not alongside leaders including President Joe Biden, French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelenskyy for the major memorial event at Omaha Beach in Normandy on Thursday. Former Prime Minister David Cameron, who is now foreign minister, represented the United Kingdom.

Labour Party leader Keir Starmer, the current favorite to win the election, attended and was pictured meeting Zelenskyy and other leaders.

Sunak had earlier attended a ceremony at the British memorial in Normandy alongside King Charles III and surviving World War II veterans. He also attended a commemoration in Portsmouth, England, the day before.

Sunak wrote on X, formerly Twitter, that the 80th anniversary of the Allied invasion that helped free Europe from the Nazis “should be about those who made the ultimate sacrifice for our country. The last thing I want is for the commemorations to be overshadowed by politics.”

He added: “On reflection, it was a mistake not to stay in France longer — and I apologise," he wrote.

The prime minister recorded an interview with broadcaster ITV on Thursday after returning from France, though he said that was not the reason he cut short his trip.

Sunak insisted he “stuck to the itinerary” that had been laid out for him for D-Day weeks before he called the election.

“On reflection it was a mistake not to stay longer and I’ve apologized for that, but I also don’t think it’s right to be political in the midst of D-Day commemorations," he said. "The focus should rightly be on the veterans and their service and sacrifice for our country.”

A clip released from the interview by ITV showed Sunak denying opposition allegations that he lied by making inaccurate statements about the opposition Labour Party’s tax plans.

Starmer said “Rishi Sunak will have to answer for his choice” to skip the D-Day event.

"For me there was only one choice. ... There was nowhere else I was going to be," Starmer told broadcasters.

Liberal Democrat leader Ed Davey said it was “a total dereliction of duty” for Sunak to skip the ceremony.

Sunak's non-attendance dominated the early stages of a debate of seven leading politicians representing political parties on the BBC, though not the prime minister or Starmer.

Nigel Farage, leader of the populist Reform U.K. party, labelled him as an “unpatriotic prime minister" while Penny Mordaunt, a Cabinet minister in Sunak's government said the decision was “completely wrong.”

Mordaunt, who is fighting to retain her seat in the naval city of Portsmouth, where the D-Day commemorations began on Wednesday, was visibly emotional about Sunak's decision to leave early as she sought to label the Labour Party as dangerous on issues of national defense.

“What happened was completely wrong and the prime minister has rightly apologized for that, apologized to veterans but also to all of us, because he was representing all of us," she said. "I’m from Portsmouth, I have also been defense secretary and my wish, at the end of this week, is that all of our veterans feel completely treasured.”

Many political commentators said Sunak's decision to leave early was a sign that he's not the most consummate political operator.

Craig Oliver, who was communications director to Cameron’s Conservative government, said the problem with Sunak is "he’s accused of not getting what it is to be a prime minister and what his duties are as a prime minister.”

All 650 seats in the House of Commons are up for grabs on July 4. The leader of the party that can command a majority — either alone or in coalition — will become prime minister.

D-Day veteran Ken Hay, 98, said Sunak's decision to “bail out” had let the country down.

“I don’t have a great regard for politicians," Hay told Sky News.