Tories make election offer to veterans on D-Day anniversary

Rishi Sunak has pledged to cut rail fares for veterans and “enshrine their rights in law” in an election offering to ex-servicemen and women on the 80th anniversary of D-Day.

The Prime Minister said a new Veterans Bill would be introduced, including measures to ensure military qualifications had an equal standing with civilian qualifications in law for the first time, if he returned to Number 10.

The Tories are also promising to reduce the price of the Veterans Railcard from £30 per year to £21, bringing it in line with the price serving personnel pay for the HM Forces Railcard.

The existing national insurance holiday for employers who hire ex-military members will be extended, the party said.

Plans for a Veterans Bill had already been announced by the Government last October, when it launched a consultation to gather views in order to publish a draft version of the legislation, before Mr Sunak called the election in May.

The Prime Minister said: “The heroes who have put their lives on the line to protect our freedoms represent the very best of our country.

“That’s why we have prioritised making the UK the best place in the world to be a veteran with our clear plan to give them the opportunities, aftercare and support they deserve to live prosperous, fulfilled lives.

D-Day 80th anniversary
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak met D-Day veterans during the 80th anniversary national commemoration in Portsmouth (Leon Neal/PA)

“The choice at the election is clear – vote for the Conservatives for a dedicated veterans minister, veterans’ rights enshrined in law and more opportunities for veterans, or Labour who have no plan and would take us back to square one.”

Both main parties have seized on the theme of the week to pitch to veterans and the armed forces community as commemoration events for the 80th anniversary of D-Day take place.

Sir Keir Starmer has pledged to legislate for a new armed forces tsar to represent the military and their families in the first King’s Speech if Labour wins the election.

Plans to fully enshrine in law the armed forces covenant, which is an existing government commitment to support the military community through a range of initiatives, have also been announced by the party.

General Election campaign 2024
Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer has pledged to legislate for a new armed forces tsar (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

Sir Keir has been attempting to shift perceptions of Labour’s defence stance following the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, a long-standing critic of Nato and Trident.

It comes as Prime Minister Rishi Sunak seeks to draw a dividing line with his rival over the issue, having recently vowed to increase defence spending to 2.5% of GDP by 2030.

Labour has said it would meet the spending target as soon as economic conditions allowed but declined to give a specific time frame.

Minister for veterans’ affairs minister Johnny Mercer said: “D-Day is a moment for us to reflect on the historic bravery of those men who fought for us 80 years ago. Their spirit lives on in the millions of veterans who continue their legacy today.

“I am hugely proud of the progress we’ve made in ensuring the UK is the best place in the world to be a veteran and I am dedicated to making sure we go even further with this clear plan to support vets.

“And we will go further by passing a law to enshrine veterans’ rights in law so that all veterans can have the peace of mind that their dedication will be recognised and rewarded throughout their lifetimes.”

Responding to the Conservatives’ veterans announcement, a Labour Party spokesperson said: “Veterans have had 14 years of the Conservatives promising a lot but delivering very little.

“The Conservatives haven’t passed a Veterans Bill since 2010. They’ve only issued veteran ID cards to one in 10 eligible veterans and they’ve overseen a rise in veteran homelessness.

“The Tory record on veterans is shameful failure and their election plans mean no change for veterans. It’s time for change with Labour.

“We will improve the everyday lives of our veterans by putting the Armed Forces Covenant fully into law, protect and improve the Office of Veterans’ Affairs, and scrap visa fees for non-UK veterans who have served four years and their dependants.”