PMQs scorecard: Rishi Sunak and Keir Starmer squabble about Rwanda

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 they sparred about: Rishi Sunak’s stalled Rwanda plan — which aims to permanently send asylum seekers who arrive in Britain to the central African nation — took center stage at the final PMQs before Easter recess, as the U.K. government tries to push through laws this week which will finally get deportation flights off the ground.

Called to the bar: Labour’s lawyerly leader Keir Starmer prosecuted the case that, even if the expensive scheme does actually work on the government’s terms, it would barely make a dent in the U.K.’s huge asylum backlog.

Plus: Starmer naturally couldn’t resist the chance to jab at the PM as his party management issues continue.

The pre-rehearsed attack: “The tragedy is we know the prime minister doesn’t even believe in the Rwanda policy,” Starmer said. “But his entire focus is stopping his MPs from holding the sword of Damocles above his head.”

Versus the pre-rehearsed defense: “It’s crystal clear that not only does the Labour Party not have a plan to fix this issue, but the truth is they don’t actually care about fixing this issue,” Sunak hit back.

Reading between the lines: Starmer’s attacks on the Rwanda plan largely focused on Labour’s argument that it is expensive and won’t actually help — rather than the fact no flights have taken off in the two years since the scheme was announced. That might be a sign Labour reckons the government’s new laws, once passed by parliament, may actually result in at least one flight finally taking people to Rwanda.

Otherwise: The two leaders traded blows we’ve all heard many time before — including on Starmer’s past legal career, and on Sunak being scared of calling an election. Maybe the lads will think up some new material over recess. (Spoiler: They won’t.)

Light relief: Most of the House paused for a chuckle when the SNP’s Westminster leader Stephen Flynn asked Sunak: “With his backbenchers looking for a unity candidate to replace him, which of the numerous born-again Thatcherites on the Labour front bench does he believe best fits the bill?” (in reference to recent praise of the former Tory PM from Labour figures.) Even Sunak allowed himself a giggle.

Tediously helpful backbencher of the week: “Does [the PM] agree with me that cutting inflation is the very best way … to help my constituents and that today’s statistics are very welcome?” Tory backbencher Giles Watling asked, in a question helpfully timed to follow new stats revealing a big fall in the U.K. rate of inflation.

Honorable mentions too: Tory MP for Wrexham Sarah Atherton asked Sunak to agree that Wrexham is better under the Tories … while her fellow backbencher Angela Richardson invited the PM to attack Labour’s housebuilding plans.

Totally unscientific scores on the doors: Low energy pre-recess fare that won’t change a thing about the state of play in Westminster. Which, given Labour’s polling lead, means a default win for Starmer.

Sunak 5/10 … Starmer 6/10 … Backbencher suck-ups 100/10.