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Minister forced to deny Sunak will quit over D-Day row

A Cabinet minister has been forced to deny that Rishi Sunak will quit as Tory leader midway through the general election campaign in the wake of his decision to duck out of the D-Day commemorations.

In a further sign of the Prime Minister’s badly misfiring campaign, Work and Pensions Secretary Mel Stride insisted that his party’s leader will plough on despite growing suggestions from Tory commentators that he could step aside.

Speaking to Sky News, Mr Stride dismissed the idea that Mr Sunak could hand over the leadership of the Tory Party before the July 4 General Election.

The minister said Mr Sunak would “absolutely” lead the party into the election.

“There should be no question of anything other than that,” he told Sky News.

The very fact that Mr Stride is being asked whether his leader can see the campaign through is startling and shows how big an impact the mistake has made in this election race. There has never been a change of party leader midway through a campaign in modern political history.

The comments came as Nigel Farage twice refused to disown comments that suggested Mr Sunak left the D-Day commemorations early due to his Indian heritage.

The Reform UK leader on Friday appeared to suggest that the Prime Minister did not appreciate the relevance of the ceremony remembering the Normandy landings, claiming Mr Sunak did not understand “our history, frankly our culture” when condemning his decision to leave early.

Mr Farage chose not to clarify what he meant by his comments when pressed for an explanation on Sunday morning, and instead referred to the proportion of soldiers that fought in the two world wars coming from Commonwealth countries.

Asked if he was trying to highlight Mr Sunak’s British-Asian background, Mr Farage suggested he was talking about the Prime Minister’s “class” and “privilege”.

The Reform UK leader told BBC1’s Sunday With Laura Kuenssberg programme: “I know what your question is leading at – 40 per cent 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.”

But despite his attempts to defend his previous words on the topic, Welfare Secretary Mel Stride insisted Mr Farage had refused to directly engage with the accusations and described his earlier comments as “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,” Mr Stride said.

He added: “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.”

Labour’s Shadow Justice Secretary Shabana Mahmood said Mr Farage’s attack on Mr Sunak was a “dog whistle”.

She 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.”

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