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Rishi Sunak slammed for leaving D-Day event at first TV debate ahead of UK general election

Senior party figures take part in the BBC Election Debate at Broadcasting House, June 7, 2024
Senior party figures take part in the BBC Election Debate at Broadcasting House, June 7, 2024 Copyright Stefan Rousseau/live
Copyright Stefan Rousseau/live
By Euronews with AP
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Representatives of seven major political parties clash over the economy, the NHS, Brexit and climate policy with the fiercest debate concerning immigration.

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Senior figures from seven of the UK's major political parties have roundly condemned prime minister Rishi Sunak for his decision to leave D-Day commemoration events in Normandy early.

The party figures were speaking at the first televised debate ahead of next month's general election.

Conservative Party MP Penny Mordaunt said she thought the decision was "completely wrong" but defended Sunak by explaining that he had apologised for the time of his departure.

Representatives from seven political parties take part in the first televised debate ahead of July's general election, June 7, 2024
Representatives from seven political parties take part in the first televised debate ahead of July's general election, June 7, 2024Stefan Rousseau/live

"The Prime Minister has rightly apologised for that, apologised to veterans but also to all of us because he was representing all of us," she said.

Sunak was widely criticised for leaving Thursday's commemorations in France early to return to the campaign trail, which included recording an interview for the national channel ITV. 

"Respect our veterans, including those, with the average age of 100, who were deserted by the Prime Minister in Normandy yesterday, which I think was a complete and utter disgrace and shows us we actually have a very unpatriotic Prime Minister. It was dreadful," said Reform party leader, Nigel Farage.

“It was not only politically shameful, but I think many of us feel personally quite insulted," said Liberal Democrat MP, Daisy Cooper.

Sunak apologised on Friday, saying that "on reflection" the decision was a mistake.

Condemnation of Sunak was arguably the only common ground the senior party figures found in the seven-way debate.

The Scottish National Party's Westminster representative Stephen Flynn won applause from the audience when he called Brexit "an unmitigated disaster for the economy", calling the leader of Reform Nigel Farage "the snake oil salesman who delivered Brexit".  

"There's also a conspiracy of silence on one other issue. And that's Brexit. Because Brexit has impacted the economy more than the Covid pandemic has. It has put your food bills up completely unnecessarily," he said.

But it was the topic of immigration that sparked the most heated debated. 

Nigel Farage opened the debate, saying immigration was causing a "population crisis" and diminishing the quality of life for many people in the UK.

There's also a conspiracy of silence on one other issue. And that's Brexit. Brexit has impacted the economy more than the COVID pandemic has.
Stephen Flynn
Scottish National Party

Plaid Cymru's leader Rhun ap Iowerth said the tone of the debate had to be changed and accused Farage of bigotry.

"We need immigration for the health system, the care system and the economy," he said.

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The SNP's Stephen Flynn called immigration "absolutely essential" for public services and the economy, and said the "demonisation" of migrants had to end.

The Conservatives' Penny Mordaunt said she thought immigration was too high and said her party would introduce an "annual cap" on the number of people allowed into the country.

Nigel Farage opened the debate on immigration and was accused of bigotry, June 7, 2024
Nigel Farage opened the debate on immigration and was accused of bigotry, June 7, 2024Stefan Rousseau/live

But Labour's Angela Rayner shot back that problems with housing and healthcare weren’t the fault of migrants and laid the blame squarely on the Conservatives for the "decimation" done to public services.

The next two national television debates will involve only Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Labour leader, Keir Starmer. There will also be regional debates for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

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The general election takes place on July 4.

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