PMQs scorecard: Rwanda and reshuffle rows on a tough day for Rishi Sunak

Prime minister’s questions: a shouty, jeery, very occasionally useful advert for British politics. Here’s what you need to know from the latest session in POLITICO’s weekly run-through.

What’s going on? It’s been a blockbuster week in Westminster … and it’s only Wednesday. The most recent OMG moment came on Wednesday morning with the Supreme Court ruling that the government’s much-hyped plan to send refugees to Rwanda is unlawful. And even if it feels like it was weeks ago, on Monday, the prime minister sacked his troublesome Home Secretary Suella Braverman and reshuffled his Cabinet to include former top dog David Cameron as his new foreign secretary. Now, onto the drama…

What they sparred about: At first, David Cameron. “The prime minister obviously thinks so little of his own MPs that he has had to peel David Cameron away from his seven-year exile in a shepherd’s hut and make him foreign secretary,” quipped Labour Leader Keir Starmer. Sunak described his new foreign secretary as an “individual with unrivaled experience” who can “help Britain navigate an uncertain world in challenging times.” He dodged all questions about Cameron’s role in the Greensill scandal, naturally.

What Rishi wants to talk about: Figures released Wednesday morning by the Office for National Statistics show inflation has indeed halved since the start of 2023, when Rishi Sunak promised it would do exactly that. It means Sunak can declare victory on one of his five pledges. Well done Rishi, but there are a few other things are going on…

What Rishi has to talk about: Rwanda. Sunak said the Supreme Court affirmed that “the principle of removing asylum seekers to a safe third country is lawful,” but conceded — after being roundly defeated in court — that there “are further elements that they want additional certainty on.” That’s one way to put it. He also give a hint about potential next steps amid calls from Tory backbenchers to get tougher. Sunak said “if it becomes clear that our domestic legal frameworks or international conventions are still frustrating plans … I am prepared to change our laws and revisit those international relationships.” Keir Starmer described the government’s plan as a “ridiculous, pathetic spectacle.”

Biggest Conservative cheer of the day: Sunak repeatedly asked Starmer if he wants to apologize for his predecessor Jeremy Corbyn’s refusal to call Hamas a terrorist organization. Starmer — who faces plenty of pressure from his own backbenchers over Gaza later — noted that Corbyn was no longer a Labour MP, but Sunak wasn’t letting it go. He pointed out that Starmer “served under him, and he told the country he would be a great prime minister.” The crowd went wild, much to the disappointment of speaker Lindsay Hoyle. 

Number of calls for a general election: One. Labour’s Kate Osborne said that it was “insulting” that  Sunak had appointed Esther McVey as minister without portfolio, blasting her “frequently attacks the LGBTQ+ community.” She asked: “Does the PM agree that he has manifestly and repeatedly failed, and that it is time to resign and call a general election?” Readers, he did not agree. 

Blast from the past: SNP leader Stephen Flynn noted that, when prime minister, David Cameron said “people in Gaza are living under constant attacks and pressure in an open-air prison.”

Bromance klaxon: Starmer said that Sunak, although a busy man, still found time to “fanboy” over Elon Musk at the recent AI summit.

Whoops: Sunak said the cost-of-living crisis is the “biggest challenge facing countries up and down the family,” which is nice.

Totally non-scientific scores on the doors: It’s a hard day for Rishi Sunak. Aging quips on previous leaders aren’t the smoothest way to dodge the news on a tough week. 4/10. Starmer gets 6/10 for a workmanlike performance — aided by the news cycle. See you next week!