Britain's Prime Minister Rishi Sunak attends a commemorative ceremony marking the 80th anniversary of the World War II D-Day landings in Normandy, at the World War II British Normandy Memorial of Ver-sur-Mer, Thursday, June 6, 2024.

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak apologised Friday, June 7, for leaving the D-Day anniversary commemorations in France early to conduct a television interview about the United Kingdom’s general election campaign. Opposition politicians accused Sunak of “a total dereliction of duty” by skipping a major international ceremony with fellow world leaders in Normandy on Thursday.

Sunak attended a British government event before returning home and missed the main ceremony at Omaha Beach, attended by France’s President Emmanuel Macron, US President Joe Biden and Ukraine leader Volodymyr Zelensky.

“After the conclusion of the British event in Normandy, I returned back to the UK,” Sunak said in a post on the social media site X. “On reflection, it was a mistake not to stay in France longer – and I apologize.”

Sunak, languishing in the polls and widely tipped to lose the election on July 4, sent Foreign Secretary David Cameron to the event instead, where he was pictured alongside other world leaders.

British Foreign Secretary David Cameron (left) stands in for Prime Minister Rishi Sunak at the D-Day ceremony, alongside French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and US President Joe Biden in Saint-Laurent-sur-Mer, in northwestern France, on June 6, 2024.

Sunak’s main opponent in the election, Labour leader Keir Starmer, also attended and was photographed meeting Zelensky. In a post on X, Starmer said he told the Ukrainian president that “there will be no change in Britain’s support for Ukraine” if he becomes the next British prime minister as expected.

Labour’s Jonathan Ashworth accused Sunak of prioritising “his own vanity TV appearances over our veterans.” Ed Davey, the leader of the smaller Liberal Democrats party, said Sunak had “brought shame” to his office and “let down our country.”

‘Ultimate sacrifice’

Conservative leader Sunak said in his post that the anniversary “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 wrote. “I care deeply about veterans and have been honoured to represent the UK at a number of events in Portsmouth and France over the past two days and to meet those who fought so bravely.”

The D-Day ceremonies marked the 80th anniversary of the launch of Operation Overlord when tens of thousands of Allied troops stormed the beaches of Normandy in northern France on June 6, 1944. The vast military operation paved the way for liberation of occupied France and the end of the war against Nazi Germany.

Le Monde with AFP