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Conservative British PM faces backlash after skipping D-Day event and going on TV

British Prime Minister Rish Sunak apologized Friday after he left D-Day commemorations in Normandy, France, early and went on TV for an interview.

The move sparked backlash at home and appeared to be yet another setback for Sunak’s Conservative Party, which is down in opinion polls against Keir Starmer’s Labour Party. 

‘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,’ Sunak told reporters. ‘The focus should rightly be on the veterans.’

Starmer remained in Normandy for the duration of events that commemorated the 80th anniversary of the D-Day invasion, which Britain’s King Charles and President Biden attended. The Labour leader was seen talking to several world leaders, including Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

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.

His decision to leave the event early was reportedly made weeks in advance, before the general election was called, according to the BBC. But his campaign failed to consider the optics of the U.K. leader ditching D-Day commemorations to go on TV and criticize the opposition.

A Conservative politician who asked not to be identified told Reuters, ‘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, apologized for being caught on tape calling a voter ‘a bigoted woman’, a moment seen as a turning point in a campaign he lost.

Others pounced on Sunak in the British press. ‘He should have stayed. As the PM of our country he should have been there to represent the country and to show our gratitude to those who fell,’ said former British army commander in Afghanistan Richard Kemp in comments to the Mirror, a tabloid newspaper. 

Labour spokesman Jonathan Ashworth said the ‘disrespect’ Sunak showed was ‘shocking.’ 

‘I think it reveals something unbecoming about both his judgment and his character, And I think people today will be asking, what type of person thinks it’s more important to rush away from an event like this, to go and do an interview to try and score political points to save his own skin than truly honor the fallen,’ Ashworth told Sky News. 

Nigel Farage, a lead campaigner for Brexit and leader of the Reform UK party, who will stand in the election, said Sunak’s actions were ‘an insult’ to America. 

‘He doesn’t really care about our history. He doesn’t really care, frankly, about our culture. He cares about staying in Number 10,’ Farage said in a video posted on social media. 

‘This man is not patriotic. Doesn’t believe in the country, its people, its history, or frankly, even its culture. If you’re a patriotic voter, don’t vote for Rishi Sunak,’ Farage said, adding that he was in Normandy ‘in a personal capacity because I wanted to be there. I care.’ 

The Conservative party is polling about 20 points behind Labour in opinion polls. 

Earlier this month, the Conservatives suffered historic losses in local elections, losing about half. Labour picked up seats and won most of the key mayoral races up for grabs, including in London.

The center-left party showed strength in areas that voted for Brexit in 2016 and in places where former Conservative Prime Minister Boris Johnson prevailed over Labour in the 2019 general election.

In the interview with ITV on Thursday, Sunak warned Labour would raise taxes if elected by about 2,000 pounds, or $2,500, per household if they win the election. Labour leaders have denied the accusation and  

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