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Election campaign day 19: Sunak pleads for D-Day forgiveness

Rishi Sunak poses for a selfie while campaigning in West Sussex (Gareth Fuller/PA)
Rishi Sunak poses for a selfie while campaigning in West Sussex (Gareth Fuller/PA)

Rishi Sunak has appealed for forgiveness from voters for returning early from last week’s D-Day commemorations in Normandy.

Here are the key moments from day 19 of the General Election campaign:

– Sunak soldiers on

The Prime Minister may have hoped he had finally put the row over his premature departure from France behind him – but there was little sign it was going away.

Facing more questions during a campaign stop in Horsham, West Sussex, Mr Sunak struck a newly conciliatory tone, insisting he “absolutely didn’t mean to cause anyone any hurt or upset”.

“I just hope people can find it in their hearts to forgive me,” he told reporters during a visit to the Dog and Bacon pub, pointing to his support for the armed forces with the promise of extra funding for defence.

Rishi Sunak talks to people in a pub behind a table with mugs and a milk jug
Rishi Sunak joins a neighbourhood watch meeting at the Dog & Bacon pub in Horsham (Gareth Fuller/PA)

Mr Sunak defiantly brushed aside suggestions that he had considered resigning, insisting he was “energised” by the vision for the country the Tories were offering.

“There are lots of people who want to write me off, write this off, say this campaign or the election is a foregone conclusion,” he said.

“The reality is I’m not going to stop going, I’m not going to stop fighting for people’s votes, I’m not going to stop fighting for the future of our country.”

– Who do you think you are kidding Mr Farage?

Nigel Farage may have been one of Mr Sunak’s most strident critics over D-Day but the Reform UK leader found himself on the spot over one of his own candidate’s views on the Second World War.

Nigel Farage addresses a news conference in front of a Union Jack backdrop
Nigel Farage faced questions over a Reform UK candidate’s comments on the Second World War (Jane Manning/PA)

It was reported that Ian Gribbin, who is standing in Bexhill and Battle, had previously said Britain should have “taken Hitler up on his offer of neutrality” instead of fighting the Nazis.

He was also said to have argued that Britain needed to “exorcise the cult of Churchill” who had been “abysmal” over both policy and military strategy.

Asked about his reported comments, Mr Farage sought to deflect the flak by turning his fire on the Greens who, he said, had been forced to suspend 20 of their candidates for “putting out pretty vile antisemitic tweets”.

He said the speed of the election meant that all parties were likely to face similar controversies in the coming days and weeks.

– Quote of the day

– No wedding bells for Suella

Mr Farage has spurned a proposal by former home secretary Suella Braverman for the Tories to embrace him and “unite the right”.

Ms Braverman, who was sacked last year by Mr Sunak, said she would happily welcome Mr Farage into the Tory fold, insisting there was “not much difference” between his policies and theirs.

Suella Braverman walking along a street
Suella Braverman has said she wants to ‘unite the right’ (Victoria Jones/PA)

For his part, Mr Farage – who has spoken of his ambition to carry out a “reverse takeover” of the Conservatives once the election is over – acknowledged there was a certain mutual attraction but made clear he would not be walking down the aisle any time soon.

“What they’ve done, allowing nearly two-and-a-half million people to settle in the country in the last two years, is most certainly not our policy,” he said.

“So I do like her, I do admire her, but I’m afraid at the moment all marriage plans are off.”

– Slapped wrist for Thornberry

Emily Thornberry, Labour’s shadow attorney general, has found herself on the naughty step after straying into education policy.

The one-time leadership challenger set the cat among the pigeons with a suggestion the party’s plans for VAT on private schools could mean bigger classes in the state sector – at least for a while – as hard-pressed parents head for the exit.

Sir Keir Starmer and shadow education secretary Bridget Phillipson sit round a table with primary school pupils
Sir Keir Starmer and shadow education secretary Bridget Phillipson visit Nursery Hill Primary School in Nuneaton, Warwickshire (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

That brought a suitably schoolmarm-ish rebuke from shadow education secretary Bridget Phillipson, who said it “just wasn’t right”.

Asked if she would now be “having a word” with her erring colleague, Ms Phillipson replied briskly: “Happy to do so, because that isn’t the position that we see at the moment.”

Headmaster Sir Keir Starmer also weighed in, saying the scheme was not only “fully funded, fully costed, but also fully planned” as well.

For the Tories, Education Secretary Gillian Keegan accused Labour of pursuing “the politics of envy” and of “punishing children to pay for their plans”.

– Picture of the day

Sir Ed Davey in the seat of a roller coaster ride
Sir Ed Davey takes a ride on a visit to Thorpe Park following the Lib Dems’ manifesto launch (Lucy North/PA)

– Davey’s big day

For the smaller parties, their manifesto launch is the one day during the campaign when they can be guaranteed a decent slice of media coverage – and Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey has been determined to make the most of it.

The party’s policy programme, unveiled in central London to the sound of Abba’s Take A Chance On Me, includes commitments to cut energy bills, stop sewage dumps, boost access to NHS dentistry, and introduce a form of proportional representation for Westminster elections.

Given Sir Ed’s record as a carer both for his mother when he was young and now for his disabled son, there was inevitably a significant focus on the already announced pledge to expand access to the carers’ allowance.

“Caring has been in the shadows for too long, and I’m proud that, as a party, we have brought it into the light,” he said.

Having in the past been the most ardent advocates of Britain’s membership of the EU, the manifesto is somewhat more circumspect on the issue of Europe.

It includes a “four-stage roadmap” to “fix” Britain’s “broken” relationship with Brussels, culminating eventually in an application to rejoin the single market.

– Social media moment

Mr Sunak sought to get his campaign back on track with a punchy post reading “If you’re a criminal, the law should show you no mercy,” referring to a pledge to recruit 8,000 more neighbourhood police officers.

While his post earned more than 20,000 likes in around six hours, it also attracted more than 8,000 comments, many of them unimpressed.

Labour was quick to attack the message, referring to Mr Sunak having been fined over lockdown parties in Downing Street while he was chancellor, posting: “Says the man fined for breaking the law twice.”

– What the polls are saying

Four opinion polls have been published in the past 24 hours, all of which show Labour continuing to enjoy a strong lead over the Conservatives.

A line chart showing the seven-day rolling average for political parties in opinion polls from February 10 to June 10, with the final point showing Labour on 45%, Conservatives 23%, Reform 12%, Lib Dems 9% and Green 6%. Source: PA graphic
(PA Graphics)

The most recent, by Deltapoll, put Labour 25 percentage points ahead, More in Common gave the party a 21-point lead, on Savanta it is 20 points while Opinium gave Labour an 18-point advantage.

An average of all polls that were carried out wholly or partly during the seven days to June 10 puts Labour on 43%, 21 points ahead of the Conservatives on 22%, followed by Reform UK on 14%, the Lib Dems on 10% and the Greens on 6%.

– What’s happening tomorrow

The Conservatives launch their general election manifesto.