Prime Minister does not deny considering axing Rwanda scheme during leadership bid

Rishi Sunak has not denied that he discussed scrapping the Rwanda scheme during his Tory leadership campaign in the summer of 2022.

The Prime Minister on Monday stressed the importance of the Rwanda migrants deportation policy, following reports he had doubts about it as chancellor and during the party leadership race.

Mr Sunak has made the scheme central to his premiership since entering Downing Street.

But The Sun suggested he considered campaigning on a promise to ditch the scheme during his unsuccessful bid for the premiership against Liz Truss, but was warned off the idea on the grounds it would upset Conservative MPs.

In a carefully-worded answer to a question about the report at a PM Connect event in north-west England, Mr Sunak (pictured) insisted he never said he was going to axe the Rwanda policy, but did not deny considering it.

He told the audience in Accrington: “I didn’t say I was going to scrap it. I mean that’s completely false. Of course I didn’t.”

Mr Sunak said it was his job as chancellor “to ask some probing questions” and scrutinise money spent on taxpayers’ behalf.

But ultimately he backed the policy “because I believe in this scheme”, the Tory leader said, stressing the need for a “deterrent” for illegal immigration.

It came after Mr Sunak on Sunday admitted questioning the “value for money” of the policy while he was chancellor, but insisted it was “wrong” to infer that he did not back sending asylum seekers to the east African country.

According to No 10 papers seen by the BBC, Mr Sunak was described as believing the “deterrent won’t work”.

The Rwanda policy is seen as key to Mr Sunak’s pledge to “stop the boats” ahead of the next election, which the Prime Minister has signalled is likely to be held in the second half of 2024.

The stalled scheme comes with a £290 million bill but no asylum seekers have been relocated as yet after the Supreme Court ruled the proposal unlawful.

The Safety of Rwanda Bill, a piece of legislation Mr Sunak hopes will prevent further legal challenges to the policy, is due to return to the Commons this month for debate.

But critics on the right of his party have threatened to amend or even vote down the legislation if it is not tightened before it is next put before MPs.

Mr Sunak on Monday said he would welcome “bright ideas” on how to improve the Bill, while insisting “my entire party is supportive” of the legislation.

“If people have bright ideas about how we can make this more effective whilst complying with our international obligations and retaining Rwanda’s participation in the scheme… then of course, I’m open to having those discussions,” he added.

Labour said claims Mr Sunak contemplated cancelling the plan altogether was evidence of “the total Tory chaos over their failing Rwanda scheme and the weakness of Rishi Sunak”.

Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said: “The idea that Rishi Sunak could doubt the policy when chancellor, plan to cancel it in his leadership campaign, and then end up belatedly championing it once it failed and will cost the taxpayer £400 million shows how incredibly weak and hopeless he is, and how far he is just chasing gimmicks to pander to parts of the Tory party and keep his job.”

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