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Sunak to miss international D-Day memorial event with world leaders

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak speaks at the UK’s national commemorative event for the 80th anniversary of D-Day, hosted by the Ministry of Defence on Southsea Common in Portsmouth, Hampshire (Dylan Martinez/PA)
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak speaks at the UK’s national commemorative event for the 80th anniversary of D-Day, hosted by the Ministry of Defence on Southsea Common in Portsmouth, Hampshire (Dylan Martinez/PA)

Rishi Sunak will miss the major international ceremony to mark the 80th anniversary of D-Day but Sir Keir Starmer will mingle with world leaders at the Omaha Beach event.

The Prime Minister is attending events in Normandy including speaking at the major British ceremony, but will not be present alongside leaders including France’s Emmanuel Macron and US President Joe Biden at the international gathering.

With the General Election campaign in full swing, the Tory leader will head back to the UK – but his rival Sir Keir will be at the high-profile international event in Normandy.

A Tory source played down the diplomatic impact of the Prime Minster’s absence, pointing out he will see Mr Macron, Mr Biden, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and other key leaders at the G7 summit in Italy next week.

But Nigel Farage, whose announcement this week that he is standing in the General Election came as a blow to Mr Sunak, criticised the move.

The Reform UK leader tweeted: “The Prime Minister has ducked out of the international D-Day event to fly back to the UK to campaign.

“I am here in Normandy in a personal capacity because I think it matters. Does he?”

The Prince of Wales and senior ministers will represent the UK at the international event, joining more than 25 heads of state and veterans for the official ceremony on Omaha Beach, Saint-Laurent-sur-Mer.

Speaking at the British Normandy Memorial ceremony on Thursday, Mr Sunak told D-Day veterans “we owe you everything”.

He said: “Each of you who contributed that day, sailor, soldier, aviator, civilian, whether you fought on the beaches, or parachuted from the skies, or flew fighters or gliders, whether you were an engineer or a radio operator or an intelligence officer, your actions freed a continent and built a better world.

“You risked everything and we owe you everything.

“We cannot possibly hope to repay that debt but we can and we must pledge never to forget.

He said veterans had “taught generations of young people about the horrors of war”, adding: “Yet with each passing year, it falls now to those of us who listened in awe to your stories to pass them on to our own children and grandchildren.

“Because only by remembering can we make certain that the cause you fought for, that so many of your friends and colleagues died for, that great cause of freedom, peace and democracy, will never be taken for granted.”

D-Day 80th anniversary
Chief of the Defence Staff Admiral Sir Tony Radakin speaks to Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer during the UK national commemorative event for the 80th anniversary of D-Day, held at the British Normandy Memorial in Ver-sur-Mer, Normandy (Gareth Fuller/PA)

Speaking ahead of the service, Sir Keir said: “It is a privilege to stand with surviving D-Day veterans in Normandy today as we mark this historic anniversary.

“We will commemorate their courage, we will honour their fallen comrades and we will ensure that their story is never forgotten.

“Our debt to them can never repaid in full.

“But we can, and must, honour their sacrifice.

“This goes beyond party politics.

“This is about who we are as a nation.

“This is our story, our history, our identity – and our future together.”