Sunak forced to defend Rwanda plan after leak suggested he harboured significant doubts

Rishi Sunak has been forced to defend his flagship Rwanda plan after leaked documents suggested he harboured significant doubts about the controversial scheme – and argued for it to be scaled back.

The prime minister said it had been his job when chancellor to scrutinise “every proposal” that involved spending taxpayers’ money.

He insisted that it would be “wrong” to infer from that that he did not back the policy to deport asylum seekers.

But the prime minister repeatedly said he had not read the documents, leaked to the BBC, which have led to accusations he has been “conning” the public over the plan.

Mr Sunak was unsure the plan would achieve its ultimate goal, to deter channel crossings in small boats, a month before it was unveiled by then prime minister Boris Johnson, according to the papers.

He was also concerned about the cost of sending asylum seekers to the African country and wanted to limit the numbers.

Labour have accused Mr Sunak of trying to con the public and called on the government to publish the papers.

The row comes as the Tory leader faces a crunch battle with his own party to get new emergency legislation through the Commons, after the Supreme Court ruled his Rwanda plan unlawful.

Losing the vote could place the future of the scheme and even Mr Sunak’s leadership in peril. MPs on the right of the party have warned Mr Sunak he faces electoral “oblivion” unless flights to Rwanda get airborne.

His former immigration minister Robert Jenrick has also threatened to lead a parliamentary revolt to try to toughen the bill, warning if the PM did not strengthen the new laws then he would lay amendments next week to ensure they were “sufficiently robust”.

Speaking to the BBC’s Sunday With Laura Kuenssberg programme, Mr Sunak said: “My job (was) to ask probing questions of every proposal that crossed my desk as chancellor.

“Whether you have doubts about it or not, you shouldn’t come to it with a preconceived notion that everything is fine when you are spending taxpayers’ money, of course you shouldn’t.

“You should always ask probing questions, you should always approach things from a position of scepticism to ensure that you get value for money for taxpayers. That is the job of the chancellor and the Treasury when things crossed their desk.

“But to infer from that that I don’t believe in the scheme or the principle of deterrence is wrong. I was doing my job to get good value for money for taxpayers.

“I went through that process, funded the scheme with the prime minister and, as prime minister myself, I have made sure that we have a similar deterrent working with Albania, and I have made the point that it is because Albania is working that we should have confidence that the Rwanda scheme will work too.”

Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said Mr Sunak had become the latest senior Conservative to indicate they “don’t believe the (Rwanda) plans will work”.

Home secretary James Cleverly has not denied that he privately described the policy as “bat****”, before he was moved to the Home Office.