Nigel Farage blasted Rishi Sunak for his ‘dreadful’ decision to skip a D-day event in Normandy as the PM was savaged in a BBC election debate tonight.

The Reform leader lashed out after the PM apologised for returning to the UK to do a pre-election TV interview instead of staying in Normandy for an event alongside US president Joe Biden.

And even Tory frontbencher Penny Mordaunt used her appearance on the debate to admit he had been ‘completely wrong’ to leave commemorations of 80 years since the beginning of the liberation of Europe from Nazi rule.  

But Ms Mordaunt, the Portsmouth North MP and a Royal Navy reservist, clashed with Mr Farage as she pleaded with critics not to make the issue a ‘political football’, with the Reform leader saying: ‘It already is, because the veterans themselves are speaking out saying he’s let the country down.’

They and Labour’s Angela Rayner are among seven senior party figures slugging it out on live television, amid a furious row over Rishi Sunak’s decision to skip a D-Day event.

The PM this morning apologised for missing a major international D-Day ceremony and said it was a ‘mistake’ for him to leave before commemoration events were over.

Mr Farage, who was in northern France yesterday in a personal capacity, has questioned why Mr Sunak felt he could skip the event with other world leaders.

The row has overshadowed Tory attempts to get on the front foot with a child benefit announcement amid opinion polls that show the party trailing Labour by a long way, with Mr Farage’s Reform UK breathing down their neck.

Mr Farage kicked off the debate by saying Mr Sunak's decision to return to the UK early was 'dreadful' - and Ms Mordaunt opened her account by saying Mr Sunak has been 'wrong' to do it and had rightly apologised.

Mr Farage kicked off the debate by saying Mr Sunak’s decision to return to the UK early was ‘dreadful’ – and Ms Mordaunt opened her account by saying Mr Sunak has been ‘wrong’ to do it and had rightly apologised.

Penny Mordaunt is representing the Tories tonight

Angela Rayner is representing Labour

Nigel Farage, who was in Normandy yesterday in a personal capacity, has questioned why Rishi Sunak felt he could skip a major D-Day event with other world leaders

Earlier this week, viewing figures showed millions of Britons snubbed Tuesday night's first showdown between the PM and Sir Keir Starmer on primetime ITV

Earlier this week, viewing figures showed millions of Britons snubbed Tuesday night’s first showdown between the PM and Sir Keir Starmer on primetime ITV

During the BBC seven-way debate, Ms Mordaunt, the Commons leader said: ‘What happened was completely wrong and the Prime Minister has rightly apologised for that, apologised to veterans but also to all of us, because he was representing all of us.

‘I’m from Portsmouth, I have also been defence secretary and my wish is, at the end of this week, is that all of our veterans feel completely treasured.’

Asked if she would have left D-Day commemorations early, Ms Mordaunt said: ‘I didn’t go to D-Day. I think what happened was very wrong, I think the Prime Minister has apologised for that.

‘But what I also think is important is we honour their legacy, they fought for our freedom, and unless we are spending the right amount on defence we can’t honour that legacy.’

Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey is not attending, with his deputy Daisy Cooper stepping in instead.

The line-up is being completed by Stephen Flynn, the SNP’s Westminster leader, Carla Denyer, co-leader of the Green Party, and Rhun ap Iorwerth of Plaid Cymru.

Tonight’s seven-way BBC debate will be presented by Mishal Husain, with questions from the live audience and others sent in by the public.

The event will take place in London from 7.30pm to 9pm.

Mr Sunak and Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer will go head-to-head on the BBC on June 26, in what is expected to be the final TV debate before polling day.

Earlier this week, viewing figures showed millions of Britons snubbed Tuesday night’s first showdown between the PM and Sir Keir on primetime ITV.

The programme was watched by an average of just 4.8million viewers, with a peak of 5.2million viewers.

This was down from the average audience of 6.7million for the ITV debate between Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn during the 2019 general election.

A YouGov snap poll revealed nearly two-thirds who did watch the clash between Mr Sunak and Sir Keir branded it ‘frustrating’. 

The debate saw both party leaders repeatedly speak over each other during tetchy exchanges, as ITV host Julie Etchingham struggled to rein them in.

Mr Farage channelled Eminem as he gloated that the TV head-to-head between Mr Sunak and Sir Keir ‘felt so empty without me’.

In a social media post after the debate had ended, the newly-installed Reform UK leader shared a video of himself on the general election campaign trail.

The footage was set to the Eminem song ‘Without Me’, which includes the lyrics: ‘Now this looks like a job for me, so everybody just follow me, because we need a little controversy, because it feels so empty without me.’

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