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General Election campaigning takes back seat to D-Day commemorations

05 Jun 2024 5 minute read
L: PM Rishi Sunak Image Stefan Rousseau / R: Sir Keir Starmer – Image Gareth Fuller

General Election campaigning is to take a back seat for a couple of days, as commemorations for the 80th anniversary of D-Day begin.

The leaders’ differences on the economy, immigration and the NHS, which were brought to light during the first debate of the campaign on Tuesday, will be put to one side as the Normandy landings are remembered.

Both Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Sir Keir Starmer will attend the UK’s national commemoration event in Portsmouth alongside members of the royal family and Armed Forces veterans on Wednesday, before attention is focussed across the Channel for further anniversary events in Normandy.

The sombre proceedings follow a heated showdown on ITV, in which Sir Keir Starmer rejected Rishi Sunak’s claim that he would hike taxes by £2,000 as “absolute garbage”, as he branded the attack line as “nonsense” after the Prime Minister deployed it repeatedly.

In his opening pitch to voters, Rishi Sunak sought to draw dividing lines with his rival as he claimed Sir Keir would “raid” pension pots and raise taxes on families.


Meanwhile, the Labour leader questioned the timing of the election, accusing Mr Sunak of calling a summer polling day because he “knows” inflation and energy prices will take a turn for the worse later in the year.

Sir Keir mockingly dubbed the Prime Minister “the British expert on tax rises” after Mr Sunak repeated his insistence that Sir Keir would increase the burden.

The two leaders were reprimanded by debate host Julie Etchingham for talking over each other following opening skirmishes over the state of the public finances.

First blood was drawn when the Tory leader challenged Sir Keir to say how he would resolve the Government’s long-running dispute with junior doctors, earning a round of applause as he said he would not offer a 35% pay rise.

But Sir Keir drew audience laughter as he ridiculed the Prime Minister over his claim that NHS waiting lists were improving, saying: “They were 7.2 million, they’re now 7.5 million. He says they are coming down and this is the guy who says he’s good at maths.”

Mr Sunak then blamed industrial action, eliciting groans from the crowd and prompting his rival to hit back: “It’s somebody else’s fault.”


Mr Sunak said Sir Keir would “reverse all of the changes I’ve made” which would “cost everyone and you thousands of pounds”.

The Labour leader initially declined to engage with the claim, but eventually said: “This £2,000 he keeps saying it’s going to cost is absolute garbage.”

Sir Keir said: “This election is all about a choice. More of the chaos and division we’ve seen for the last 14 years or turning the page and rebuilding with Labour.”

Snap verdicts following the debate marginally brightened the PM’s hopes, with YouGov polling showing 51% of people thought he performed best overall during the show, as compared with 49% voting for Sir Keir.

Elsewhere, Mr Sunak offered his strongest suggestion yet that he could be willing to leave the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) if the Government’s stalled Rwanda deportation plan remains blocked by the courts.

He said: “If I am forced to choose between securing our borders and our country’s security, or a foreign court, I’m going to choose our country’s security every single time.”

Sir Keir said the UK risked becoming a “pariah” state if it left international conventions.


Mr Sunak will have been aiming to move the dial against a backdrop of dire opinion poll ratings for the Tories, with recent analysis suggesting the party is heading for an electoral wipeout.

Sir Keir suggested the wealthy Prime Minister did not understand the plight facing hard-pressed households.

Referring to his own childhood, he said: “I do know the anguish of worrying, when the postman comes with a bill, what is that bill going to be, can I pay it? I don’t think the Prime Minister quite understands the position that you and other people are in.”

In other key developments on Tuesday:

  •  Sir Keir said he supported processing asylum claims in third countries “if that was possible to do it in compliance with international law”.
  • Mr Sunak said he would use private health care if he had a loved one on a long waiting list for surgery, while Sir Keir said he would not.
  • Mr Sunak said he had discussed whether he or Gareth Southgate “had the worst job in Britain” when he met with the England football manager.
  • Both Mr Sunak and Sir Keir said the UK’s special relationship with the US would continue if Donald Trump re-enters the White House.
  • Nigel Farage was doused in milkshake earlier on the campaign trail following his rally in Clacton.

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Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
16 days ago

How nice of the politicians to suspend their lies and deceits for a moment…has Alias Alias MP found any aircraft yet…what sad state of affairs…

First I broke the Bank then I helped with Austerity, Brexit, the Covid death total and the Scam of the century…some CV Rishi Ji !

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