Sunak’s D-Day snub has exposed his staggering aloofness

The PM must be the only man in Britain who doesn't understand the significance of this historic anniversary.

Fraser Myers

Fraser Myers
Deputy editor

Topics Politics

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Is Rishi Sunak trying to lose the General Election? It is starting to feel like a very real possibility. After all, short of stealing a puppy from an orphan, or arranging a firing squad of NHS nurses, it is hard to think of a more hamfisted, more tone-deaf, more downright antagonistic move than flouncing out of events commemorating the D-Day landings. He must want the voters to hate him. That is the only rational explanation.

Today, Rishi Sunak apologised for leaving Thursday’s D-Day events early. He attended a memorial event for the 80th anniversary of the landings at Ver-sur-Mer in northern France in the morning, before hopping back over to Blighty to film an interview with ITV. This meant he missed the later ceremony on Omaha beach. And so UK foreign secretary David Cameron, not prime minister Sunak, was pictured alongside US president Joe Biden, French president Emmanuel Macron and German chancellor Olaf Schoz. This was an all-too-visible snub.

Sunak has also been forced to deny claims that he was planning to skip even the morning ceremony to stay in the UK campaigning.

I can’t believe I need to say it, but it seems that Sunak and his coterie of advisers still need to hear it: D-Day matters to the British people – a hell of a lot. It was critical to the Allied defeat of the Nazis in the Second World War. It’s about democracy’s triumph over fascism and the sacrifices that were made to achieve this. This stuff is the very basis of the modern British national identity. If Sunak himself did not realise this – damning enough in itself – you would like to think that one of his band of handsomely remunerated aides might have twigged it.

Apparently not. To make matters worse, the ITV / D-Day debacle was not just the result of an unfortunate diary clash. It was not as if the PM needed to be at both events, but made a bad judgement call under pressure to put the TV interview first. No, as ITV has since revealed, the date was chosen by Team Sunak. Thursday, aka the D-Day anniversary, ‘was the slot we were offered’, confirmed ITV political editor Paul Brand, who conducted the interview. ‘We don’t know why.’

Even more bizarrely, this was not a live interview. The public will not see it until next week. There was literally no good reason at all for Sunak to rush back to Britain to film it. Besides, any sane person would go to great lengths to avoid being in the same room as ITV’s smarmy and pious Brand. Personally, I’d have considered scheduling an unnecessary appendix removal. But no, Sunak actually chose to be there instead of commemorating D-Day.

When Sunak fired the starting gun on the General Election, just over two weeks ago, the polls suggested the Tories were facing a very heavy defeat. He had just over six weeks to try to pull off a miraculous comeback. To do so, he could not afford to put a single foot wrong. Yet he has just made one of the most damaging unforced errors in an election campaign in our lifetimes. The Labour attack lines are writing themselves: ‘Rishi Sunak demands national service from young people but ducks out of a service for veterans.’ You just cannot argue with that.

In recent days there has been intense speculation as to whether Nigel Farage entering the fray could lead Reform to overtake the Conservatives in the polls. Right now the two parties are within two points of each other. Yet after the D-Day debacle, it’s clear that Sunak doesn’t need the help of a populist outsider to burn the Tory Party to the ground.

The well-deserved death of the Conservatives, if it comes on 4 July, will have Rishi’s fingerprints all over it.

Fraser Myers is deputy editor at spiked and host of the spiked podcast. Follow him on Twitter: @FraserMyers.

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