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Rishi Sunak defends under-fire Rwanda policy as voters grill prime minister live on TV

Rishi Sunak has defended his under-fire Rwanda policy as the UK public grilled the prime minister live on TV.

Mr Sunak faced questions from an audience of undecided and swing voters in County Durham on Monday night, including over his flagship deportation scheme.

He argued illegal migration is “profoundly unfair” and is putting a strain on the country’s public services, while he cited “compassion” for vulnerable migrants who are being “exploited by criminal gangs” as another reason for implementing his plan.

Speaking on GB News, Mr Sunak said: “In order to fully solve this problem, we need a deterrent... That’s what Rwanda is all about. That is why I am absolutely committed to getting this bill through parliament and getting this scheme up and running.”

It comes as the Safety of Rwanda Bill came under scrutiny in the House of Lords earlier on Monday, facing opposition from both Labour and Conservative peers, who warned of their belief that the legislation would set a dangerous precedent for Britain.

The PM’s bill, which aims to overcome a Supreme Court ruling blocking the government from deporting asylum seekers to Rwanda, is currently making its way through the upper chamber, with Mr Sunak on Monday night blaming the Labour Party for its slow progress.

Mr Sunak faced questions from an audience of undecided and swing voters in County Durham on Monday night, including over his flagship deportation scheme (GB News)
Mr Sunak faced questions from an audience of undecided and swing voters in County Durham on Monday night, including over his flagship deportation scheme (GB News)

Describing the legislation as “the toughest anyone has seen”, he vowed: “I will keep going.”

The Tory leader is facing one of the most challenging weeks of his premiership, as the opposition to his Rwanda Bill comes ahead of the release on Thursday of official figures revealing whether the country has slipped into a recession and two tricky by-elections.

The PM used his platform on Monday night to take a swipe at Sir Keir Starmer who has become embroiled in a storm over remarks made about Israel by his party’s Rochdaleby-election candidate Azhar Ali.

Just minutes before Mr Sunak went on air, Labour withdrew its support for Mr Ali after he claimed Israel deliberately relaxed security to allow Hamas to carry out their 7 October attack, to provide grounds to invade Gaza, in a recording obtained by the Mail on Sunday.

The PM accused the Labour leader of standing by the politician and having “no principles at all”.

Sir Keir Starmer has claimed the Labour party has changed since the antisemitism crisis that engulfed Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership (PA Wire)
Sir Keir Starmer has claimed the Labour party has changed since the antisemitism crisis that engulfed Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership (PA Wire)

Mr Ali has apologised for his “deeply offensive” remarks – yet the controversy has prompted questions about Labour leader Sir Keir’s claim the party has changed since the antisemitism crisis that engulfed Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership.

Mr Sunak himself faced a backlash earlier this week after he accused the Labour leader in the Commons of being incapable of “defining a woman” while Esther Ghey, the mother of murdered transgender teenager Brianna Ghey, was visiting Parliament.

A member of Monday night’s audience asked the prime minister why LGBT+ people should vote Conservative, pressing him on the trans community in particular.

Azhar Ali has apologised for his ‘deeply offensive’ remarks (PA Wire)
Azhar Ali has apologised for his ‘deeply offensive’ remarks (PA Wire)

The Tory leader replied: “For people that are going through that, particularly children, we have to be sensitive, tolerant and understanding...

“But I also think in that issue that, particularly when it comes to questions over women’s safety, that biological sex is important.”

He added: “I really don’t think that anything I just said is controversial.”

An issue that has blighted the entirety of Mr Sunak’s premiership is worsening NHS waiting lists.

The PM used his platform on Monday night to take a swipe at Sir Keir Starmer (GB News)
The PM used his platform on Monday night to take a swipe at Sir Keir Starmer (GB News)

In response to a question posed on the matter, Mr Sunak cited investments in the health service that might only reap benefits in years to come but that he is still making because they are “the right thing to do”.

However, Mr Sunak admitted: “We haven’t made enough of a dent in the waiting list.”

Although he went on to blame Covid and now ongoing strikes over pay, insisting: “I know that we can get them down if we can get the strikes behind us.”

Acknowledging the tough times the country has faced in recent years, Mr Sunak encouraged the voters to “stick with the plan” of the Conservative party, insisting, “The plan’s working.” Conversely, he said: “The alternative is going back to square one with the Labour Party.”