Harper agrees Sunak made ‘mistake’ by leaving D-Day events early amid Tory anger

 (PA Wire)
(PA Wire)

Rishi Sunak made a “mistake” by skipping a major D-Day memorial event, another Cabinet minister has said, with the debacle continuing to dominate as campaigning entered its third weekend.

Mark Harper said he agreed “with what the Prime Minister himself said – it was a mistake for him to leave early”, but did not go as far as fellow senior Tory Penny Mordaunt in branding the decision “completely wrong”.

Mr Sunak was forced to apologise for leaving France before an international ceremony attended by world leaders including US President Joe Biden to mark the 80th anniversary of the Allied landings.

The move prompted a fierce backlash from political rivals and some Conservatives already nervous about their party’s electoral prospects, with the outrage swelling after it emerged Mr Sunak had returned to the UK to record a General Election campaign TV interview.

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

The Transport Secretary told BBC Breakfast on Saturday: “I don’t know what the detail was of putting the Prime Minister’s schedule together, which, as he said, was done some time ago before the election campaign was called.

“But, look, it was a mistake. People make mistakes. The Prime Minister has made a mistake. He’s apologised for it. And he’s apologised to those that would have been particularly hurt by it.”

It came after Ms Mordaunt, a Navy reservist, told a seven-way BBC debate on Friday: “What happened was completely wrong and the Prime Minister has rightly apologised for that, apologised to veterans but also to all of us, because he was representing all of us.”

After she said the issue should not become “a political football”, Reform UK leader Nigel Farage replied: “Well, it already is. It already is because the veterans themselves are speaking out saying he’s let the country down.”

The Tories have sought to move on from the row with new policy offers, including a pledge to axe stamp duty for first-time buyers on homes up to £425,000.

They also set out their “Backing Drivers Bill” which would ban Wales-style blanket 20mph limits and reversing the Ultra Low Emission Zone (Ulez) expansion from inner into outer London.

Meanwhile, Labour has vowed to “pull up the shutters” for small businesses with a series of policies to attract entrepreneurs, including an overhaul of the business rates system to help high street shops compete with online giants.

The Liberal Democrats would plough £50 million a year into maintaining three new national parks, according to their weekend policy launch.