Sunak can recover from ‘disappointing’ D-day blunder, insists minister | Conservatives

Chris Philp, the policing minister, said he was left feeling “surprised and disappointed” on learning Rishi Sunak had left D-day commemorations early, but insisted the prime minister would recover politically from the mistake.

As the row over Sunak’s decision to miss events in Normandy involving other world leaders rumbled into a second week, he is scheduled to resume speaking to journalists in a planned policing-based visit to West Sussex.

Philip, who is a Sunak loyalist, said the prime minister should get some credit for apologising “pretty forcefully” the next morning, saying such immediate and frank contrition was “fairly rare” in politics.

Asked by Sky News how he had personally felt when he learned Sunak had left the events early, Philp replied: “Well, I was surprised and disappointed, but he apologised, and I think if you look at his track record, looking after veterans and funding the armed services, he’s got a good track record.”

Sunak “did obviously attend all the events in the UK with the veterans, and he attended the British-hosted events in Normandy and met British veterans there”, he argued, adding: “But he should have gone to the final one. That’s right. And he’s apologised.”

The sense of chaos around the prime ministerial team has been heightened by his lack of visibility, with Sunak avoiding any media questions since an awkward pooled TV interview on Friday.

But Philip – who said he had not personally talked to Sunak since before parliament was dissolved for the election – said the PM would be “out on the campaign trail today meeting people, no doubt including journalists as well”.

Philp said: “I’m sure he regrets deeply not having attended that event, which is why obviously he rightly apologised. It was a mistake, but he’s recognised that. He’s apologised, and I think we’ll see him bouncing around the campaign trail this week. And I’m sure he’ll be talking to journalists.”

Sunak will be aiming to put the Tories’ campaign back on track after recent days in which there have been other hiccups, including a much-mocked TV interview by the party chair, Richard Holden, who repeatedly refused to answer questions about why he was suddenly parachuted into a safe seat more than 250 miles from his old one.

Philp was sent on the morning broadcast round to discuss the party’s latest policy offering, a pledge for 8,000 extra police officers, paid for in part by a 25% increase in fees for people applying for UK visas.

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While Labour remain about 20 points ahead of the Conservatives in the polls, they have also faced some policy controversies, with Bridget Phillipson, the shadow education secretary, saying on Monday that it “just wasn’t right” for her frontbench colleague Emily Thornberry to suggest their plan to add VAT to private school fees would lead to larger class sizes in the state sector as children leave private schools.

In an interview on Sunday, Thornberry, the shadow attorney general, said “it would be fine if we have to, in the short term, have larger classes” because of this.

But speaking to Times Radio, Phillipson said: “I am afraid that just wasn’t right. Actually what we are seeing across the state sector is a falling number of pupils in our classrooms because of the falling birthrate, and there are fewer young people arriving at school.

“So actually we are going to be in the position pretty soon, and it is already the case in places like London, where schools are merging and closing because of falling numbers.”

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