Rishi Sunak is “deeply patriotic”, a Cabinet colleague has told Sky News, as the controversy over the prime minister’s D-Day snub rumbles on in the run-up to the election.

Responding to ongoing criticism of the Tory leader, Work and Pensions Secretary Mel Stride said his boss had recognised he had made a mistake over his decision to leave the 80th anniversary events in Normandy early to carry out a TV interview and would be “feeling this very deeply”.

In the face of a backlash from rivals, veterans and some within his own party, Mr Sunak was forced to apologise for skipping an international ceremony attended by world leaders including US President Joe Biden to mark the allied landings.

Among those to wade into the row was Reform UK leader Nigel Farage who told Sky News that the debacle proved Mr Sunak was “not a patriotic leader of the Conservative Party”.

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PM apologises for D-Day departure

PM’s ‘patriotism is beyond doubt’

Mr Sunak is campaigning in Yorkshire without the usual media pack today after facing accusations of “dodging” reporters’ questions on Saturday amid the continuing D-Day furore.

Speaking to the Sunday Morning With Trevor Phillips show on Sky News, Mr Stride said: “I do know Rishi pretty well, in fact I consider him as something of a friend, and I know he is a deeply patriotic person who cares greatly about this country.

“I know he will be feeling this very deeply.”

He added: “His commitment and his patriotism is in my opinion beyond doubt.

“Now that is not the same thing as saying a mistake was not made. He accepts that – he didn’t run away or resile from that situation.

“What he did is he stood up, he put his hands up, he accepted a mistake has been made and he unequivocally apologised.”

Pensions secretary Mel Stride speaks to Sky News' Trevor Phillips
Image:
Mel Stride was questioned by Trevor Phillips on Sky News

Mr Stride also dismissed the suggestion that Mr Sunak could hand over the leadership of the Tory Party before the 4 July poll.

He said Sunak would “absolutely” lead the party into the election and added: “There should be no question of anything other than that.”

But Conservative commentator Tim Montgomerie branded Mr Sunak’s early D-Day event departure as “the biggest gaffe I can remember in politics” and said morale in the party was at “rock bottom”.

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Sunak ‘utterly disconnected from ordinary folk’

Meanwhile, Mr Farage has defended his claim that Mr Sunak’s early departure from commemoration events in France showed he did not understand “our culture”.

Pressed over whether he was trying to highlight Mr Sunak’s British-Asian background, Mr Farage highlighted the wartime contribution made by Commonwealth troops and suggested he was talking about the prime minister’s “class” and “privilege”.

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Farage: PM ‘not patriotic leader’ over D-Day

He told the BBC: “I know what your question is leading at – 40% of our contribution in World War One and World War Two came from the Commonwealth.

“He is utterly disconnected by class, by privilege from how the ordinary folk in this country feel. He revealed that, I think spectacularly, when he left Normandy early.

“And out there now there are millions and millions of people who were Conservative voters, traditional Conservative voters, not the Red-Wallers, who are now thinking ‘Do we go on supporting the Conservatives or do we support Reform?’

“And this is going to be, I think, the acid test of this election.”

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‘Classic Nigel Farage trick’

In his own interview with the BBC, Mr Stride argued Mr Farage’s remarks were “deeply regrettable”.

He said: “I think they are suggesting things – I’m not going to go any further than that because I didn’t want to stoke this whole thing up – but it just seems to me that that’s an ill-advised thing to have said.

“I feel very uncomfortable with that. We’ve had in our country, and it’s a source of great personal pride – as somebody who supported the prime minister, wanted him to be the leader of our party and our prime minister – that I’ve sat around a cabinet table that’s the most diverse in history.

“And I’m very proud of the fact that we have a British Asian who is right at the top of our government.”

On the same subject, Labour shadow justice secretary Shabana Mahmood told the BBC: “I think this is a classic Nigel Farage trick, lean just enough to signal a bit of a dog whistle and then lean straight back and sound perfectly reasonable and say something good about the contribution that Commonwealth soldiers, ethnic minorities made towards the war effort.”

Shabana Mahmood
Image:
Shabana Mahmood

She added: “We can all see exactly what Nigel Farage is doing, he’s got form, it is completely unacceptable.

“This is a man that has a track record of seeking to divide communities who just wants to do it with a veneer of respectability whilst he’s at it.”



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