Election campaign day 17: Rishi Sunak ducks media as D-Day row rumbles on

The Prime Minister avoided media questions amid continuing criticism over his early return from D-Day commemorations as the third weekend of campaigning got under way.

Here are the key moments from day 17 of the campaign:

– Putting up walls

Mr Sunak visited a walled garden as an opportunity for reporters to quiz him did not take place, with the Tories citing time constraints on his tour of County Durham and North Yorkshire on Saturday.

The planned “huddle” with journalists was called off as the D-Day row continued, and after his awkward exchange with broadcasters a day earlier.

Rishi Sunak during a visit to a Big Help Out project in a walled garden in Bishop Auckland
Rishi Sunak visited a Big Help Out project in a walled garden in Bishop Auckland (Phil Nobel/PA)

It came after another Cabinet minister – Mark Harper – said Mr Sunak had made a “mistake” by skipping an international ceremony attended by world leaders including US President Joe Biden to mark the 80th anniversary of the Allied landings.

The Transport Secretary did not go as far as fellow senior Conservative Penny Mordaunt, who branded the decision “completely wrong” during Friday’s BBC election debate.

Mr Harper repeated Mr Sunak’s suggestion it had always been his intention to leave before the event on Omaha Beach, even before he called the election.

Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey said it was “such a letdown for our whole country” while Labour’s Sir Keir Starmer stressed he felt it was his “duty” to thank veterans at the event Mr Sunak missed.

General Election campaign 2024
Rishi Sunak has been criticised for leaving Foreign Secretary Lord Cameron to pose with the leaders of France, Germany and the US at the D-Day international ceremony (Abaca Press/Alamy/PA)

– Brewing plans for small businesses

Sir Keir was banging the drum for small firms on a campaign visit to a canal-side Camden brewery alongside Dragons’ Den star Deborah Meaden.

He promised an overhaul of the business rates system because “there’s not a level playing field between businesses that are online and those that are sort of bricks and mortar”.

Meaden praised Labour’s plan to set up Great British Energy, a publicly owned sustainable power company, as “absolutely brilliant”.

“Businesses don’t like being out of control of costs, and energy is one of those costs that simply fluctuates beyond your control,” the celebrity investor told the PA news agency.

Sir Keir Starmer helps to serve drinks during a visit to 3 Lock’s Brewery
Sir Keir Starmer helps to serve drinks during a visit to 3 Lock’s Brewery in Camden alongside TV star Deborah Meaden (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

Sir Keir also told broadcasters there “won’t be any surprises on tax” in Labour’s manifesto expected next week.

After pulling the first pint of the day at 10.55am, the Labour leader joked that “if all else fails” he would be back at the north London brewery on July 5.

Shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves was also touting Labour’s offer for growing businesses on the Farnborough high street with retail guru Mary Portas.

Meanwhile, Labour’s pledge to introduce an age cap of 80 on peers and axe new hereditary roles, as reported in The Times, got some flak after Sir Keir previously vowed to abolish the House of Lords.

– Picture of the day

 Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer holds a child
A child gets handsy with Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer during his visit to Harlesden Town Garden in London (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

– Davey campaigning is par for the course

Staying true to his penchant for attention-grabbing photo ops, Sir Ed tried his hand at tennis in Newbury and played adventure golf in Wokingham.

He visited the two Tory-held seats to promote the Lib Dems’ proposal to plough £50 million a year into creating three new national parks.

He batted away accusations the Lib Dems are “nimbys” for focusing on parks amid a housing crisis and low economic growth.

Lib Dem leader Sir Ed Davey
Lib Dem leader Sir Ed Davey was flanked by a Tyrannosaurus rex while playing a round at Wokingham Family Golf (Will Durrant/PA)

And after a round of mini golf on a dinosaur-themed course, Sir Ed said he would not put a figure on the number of seats he would consider a “bad result” because “I don’t like putting a ceiling on our ambitions”.

More lifelong Conservatives are going yellow, he said, noting that Mr Sunak’s D-Day snub “really cut through”.

“The veterans and their families are very upset and I think people who traditionally have thought the Conservatives are the party of patriotism no longer think that.”

– Salt from Swinney

Mr Sunak was also getting blasted north of the border, where Scotland’s First Minister John Swinney said his D-Day blunder “completely destroyed” his credibility.

The SNP leader also said his predecessor-but-one Nicola Sturgeon has a “huge” contribution to make in the party’s General Election campaign.

She has kept a relatively low profile amid a police probe into the spending of £600,000 of SNP funds.

Mr Swinney would not be drawn on why his former boss had not been seen alongside him on the campaign trail so far, but told PA in Livingston: “I welcome very much Nicola’s contribution”.

– Quote of the day

– Social media moment

Poking fun at Sir Keir’s supposed flip-flopping on policy, the Tories’ TikTok account presented three versions of Barbie-like dolls dubbed “Remain Keir”, “Eco Keir” and “Corbyn Keir”.

Remain Keir comes with the captions “we want to campaign for Remain” and “we don’t want to diverge [from the EU]”, while Eco Keir costs “only £38.5 billion”, and Corbyn Keir “costs more”.

– What’s happening tomorrow

Work and Pensions Secretary Mel Stride, Reform UK leader Nigel Farage and SNP Westminster leader Stephen Flynn are on the Sunday morning broadcast round.

Sir Keir and Mr Swinney are expected to hit the campaign trail while Scottish Tory deputy leader Meghan Gallacher is out and about in Perthshire.