Rishi Sunak, British Prime Minister, Apologies for Leaving D-Day Events Early

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak of Britain apologized on Friday for leaving early from a D-Day commemoration in France, admitting to a major public relations misstep in the heat of a general election campaign.

“After the conclusion of the British event in Normandy, I returned back to the UK,” Mr. Sunak wrote on the social media platform X. “On reflection, it was a mistake not to stay in France longer — and I apologise.”

Mr. Sunak did not explain why he had decided to leave early. But once back in London, he recorded an interview with the British network ITV, in which he was quizzed about his claim during a televised debate this week that the opposition Labour Party would raise taxes on British households by 2,000 pounds, about $2,560.

Mr. Sunak’s apology came after a storm of criticism, with the election less than four weeks away.

The Labour Party condemned his early departure as a “dereliction of duty.” The leader of the Liberal Democrats, Ed Davey, accused Mr. Sunak of abandoning the aging veterans of the D-Day invasion “on the beaches.” Even some officials of Mr. Sunak’s own Conservative Party expressed dismay.

Mr. Sunak’s departure meant that his foreign secretary, David Cameron, was left to represent Britain at an afternoon ceremony with the leaders of France, Germany and the United States.

That set up an unusual tableau of Mr. Cameron, a former prime minister, posing for photographs on Omaha Beach with President Biden, President Emmanuel Macron of France and Chancellor Olaf Scholz of Germany.

With Mr. Sunak preoccupied at home by an uphill battle to keep the Conservatives in power, Mr. Cameron has often acted as a stand-in for him on the global stage. But in this case, Mr. Sunak gave his critics an opening to suggest that he was putting politics ahead of a hallowed milestone in the West’s battle against Nazi tyranny.

“In choosing to prioritize his own vanity TV appearances over our veterans, Rishi Sunak has shown what is most important,” a prominent Labour official, Jonathan Ashworth, said, in a sign of how the party planned to use the decision against him. “It is yet more desperation, yet more chaos and yet more dreadful judgment from this out-of-touch prime minister.”

Mr. Sunak attended a ceremony on Thursday morning at Ver-sur-Mer in northern France, joining Mr. Macron as well as King Charles III and Queen Camilla. But he skipped the later ceremony at Omaha Beach, which was attended by Mr. Macron, Mr. Biden, Mr. Scholz and other leaders.

“This anniversary should be about those who made the ultimate sacrifice for our country,” Mr. Sunak wrote in his social media post. “The last thing I want is for the commemorations to be overshadowed by politics.”

The Labour leader, Keir Starmer, stayed for the event and was photographed shaking hands and talking to President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine. Mr. Starmer, whose party has held a double-digit polling advantage over the Conservatives for 18 months, has tried to increase his profile at international meetings in recent months.

For Mr. Starmer, who had an occasionally shaky appearance during the televised debate with an aggressive Mr. Sunak on Tuesday evening, it was a chance to regain his footing.

For his part, Mr. Sunak found himself on ITV answering more questions about his claim that Labour would raise taxes. Mr. Starmer said the accusation was a “lie,” and senior civil servants have criticized it.

ITV’s U.K. editor, Paul Brand, said the broadcaster had been trying to schedule an interview with Mr. Sunak for a long time. “Today was the slot they offered us,” he said to ITV’s “News at Ten” program. “We don’t know why.”

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