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Nigel Farage defends claim Sunak ‘doesn’t understand our culture’

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Nigel Farage has defended his claim that Rishi Sunak demonstrated he did not understand “our culture” by leaving D-Day commemorations early.

The Reform UK leader told the BBC on Sunday the prime minister’s action showed he was “disconnected by class [and] by privilege” from ordinary people.

Conservative minister Mel Stride said Mr Farage’s comment made him “very uncomfortable”, while Labour’s Shabana Mahmood called it a “dog whistle”.

Mr Sunak apologised after facing strong criticism for leaving the event to mark the 80th anniversary of the Normandy landings early on Thursday.

On Friday Mr Farage was among those to attack the prime minister over the decision, saying it showed he was not “patriotic” and did not understand “our culture”.

Asked if he was trying to highlight Mr Sunak’s British Asian background, Mr Farage told the BBC’s Sunday With Laura Kuenssberg programme: “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.”

Asked about the Reform leader’s comments, Work and Pensions Secretary Mel Stride told the programme they were “deeply regrettable”.

“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,” he continued.

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

Defending the prime minister, Mr Stride said he had “put his hands up”, recognised his mistake and apologised “unequivocally” for leaving the commemorations early.

“He feels it very deeply. I know that because I know him quite well and I know how patriotic he is,” he said, adding that Mr Sunak “cares deeply” about issues affecting veterans.

Labour’s shadow justice secretary Shabana Mahmood said: “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.

“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.”

Speaking during a campaign visit to Essex, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said: “I’m not going to have any truck with what Nigel Farage is saying on this issue.

“I don’t think it’s right to continually divide our country and divide our communities.”

However, he said Mr Sunak “has got questions to answer in relations to what happened on D-Day”.

“I know for my part that I wanted to be there to pay my respects and to say thank you,” he added.

The D-Day commemorations on Thursday included a British event at Ver sur Mer, which was attended by the prime minister and King Charles.

However, Mr Sunak left before an international commemoration on Omaha Beach attended by world leaders including US President Joe Biden, with Foreign Secretary Lord Cameron deputising for him.

Labour’s Sir Keir stayed at the event until the end.

Following a backlash, Mr Sunak apologised on Friday, saying that “on reflection” it was a mistake not to attend the whole event.

He added that his itinerary for D-Day had been set “weeks ago” and he had also attended other events with veterans, including in Portsmouth.

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