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In election campaign blow, UK's Sunak apologizes for leaving D-Day events early

Sunak's Conservatives are lagging about 20 points behind Labour in opinion polls.

FILE PHOTO: French President Emmanuel Macron and British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak attend the UK Ministry of Defence and the Royal British Legion's commemorative event at the British Normandy Memorial to mark the 80th anniversary of D-Day, in Ver-Sur-Mer, France, June 6, 2024. / Chris Jackson/Pool via REUTERS

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, in a new setback to his election campaign, apologised on June 7 for leaving D-Day commemorations early to give an interview in which he attacked the main opposition party.

Sunak's decision not to stay at the event in northern France alongside other world leaders on June 6 was met with dismay in his Conservative Party, which opinion polls suggest faces the prospect of a heavy defeat in the national election on July 4.

The leader of the opposition Labour Party, Keir Starmer, remained in Normandy for the duration of events marking the 80th anniversary of the D-Day landings and was seen talking to leaders, including Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.

"On reflection, it was a mistake not to stay longer, and I've apologised for that, but I also don't think it's right to be political in the midst of D-Day commemorations," Sunak told reporters. "The focus should rightly be on the veterans."

Sunak said his plans had been set long before the start of the election campaign.

U.S. President Joe Biden, Britain's King Charles and other leaders gathered at the events in Normandy.

Sunak spoke at a British-led event but delegated other duties to ministers including Foreign Secretary David Cameron, who was pictured with Biden, French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz.

One usually loyal Conservative politician, who asked not to be identified, said: "I can't explain it and I won't."

The lawmaker said it could become the "Gillian Duffy moment" - a reference to 2010 when Gordon Brown, who was then prime minister, apologised for being caught on tape calling a voter "a bigoted woman", a moment seen as a turning point in a campaign he lost.

Sunak's Conservatives are lagging about 20 points behind Labour in opinion polls.

His campaign had an inauspicious start last month when he announced the election date under a downpour of rain, competing to be heard against Labour supporters blaring a pop song associated with their party's crushing 1997 election victory.

In another blow, Brexit campaigner Nigel Farage took over leadership of the right-wing Reform UK party and said this week he would stand in the election.

POLITICAL PAIN

Sunak has said he is the person best placed to look after Britain's security and that he will introduce mandatory national service if he stays in power.

But the wealthy former hedge fund executive has often been portrayed as out of touch with ordinary people during a campaign in which a cost-of-living crisis is a big issue, and he was asked repeatedly about the decision while campaigning on Friday.

Chris Hopkins, political research director at the polling company Savanta, said Sunak's "political misjudgement seems almost laser-guided in causing Rishi Sunak and the Conservative Party as much political pain as humanly possible."

Senior Labour spokesman Jonathan Ashworth accused Sunak of "choosing to prioritise his own vanity TV appearances over our veterans," and "it is yet more desperation, yet more chaos."

Liberal Democrat Leader Ed Davey accused Sunak of a "total dereliction of duty". Farage said Sunak's decision showed "he doesn’t care about this country or its history".

In the interview with ITV on June 6, Sunak doubled down on assertions that Labour would raise taxes by 2,000 pounds ($2,500) per household if it took power.

Labour denies having such a plan and accused Sunak of lying for saying the estimate came from the civil service, which has said it did not endorse it.

($1 = 0.7817 pounds)

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