Rishi Sunak has defended his £1,000 bet with Piers Morgan over deporting asylum seekers to Rwanda – but claimed he was not a “betting person”.
The PM appeared to row back after fierce criticism of the “crude” bet with the TV host that he would get planes in the air before the general election.
The Tory leader said he had been “taken totally by surprise” by the TalkTV interviewer – but defended shaking on the bet to prove his certainty that Rwanda flights would soon begin.
The PM told the BBC: “I just was underlying my absolute commitment to this policy and my desire to get it through.”
However, despite Mr Sunak’s claim that he is “not a betting” person – it has emerged that he previously talked about how much he loved online betting on cricket.
Appearing on BBC Radio 4’s Test Match Special during last year’s Ashes, the PM said he used to enjoy spread betting when he was an investment banker working in the US.
Mr Sunak told the sports broadcaster in 2023: “It was around that time that spread betting had become a thing online.”
He added: “I was sitting there working on one side doing my investing finance job, and on the other screen … I was doing next wicket partnership, next wicket fall, innings total. I just discovered this thing and it was great.”
The PM’s controversial wager with Mr Morgan has sparked anger amongst the public and MPs yesterday, as he was accused of a “distasteful” wager, placing a large amount of money other’s misfortunes.
Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the SNP all condemned Mr Sunak’s hand-shake with TalkTV host Piers Morgan – with the Scottish national party reporting Mr Sunak over a potential breach of the ministerial code.
Mr Morgan and Mr Sunak agreed the £1,000 bet on the grounds that the prime minister he would be able to get people “on the planes” to Rwanda.
This morning, the prime minister said he was taken aback by the wager, though stopped short of admitting it was a mistake.
BBC 5 Live’s presenter, Rachel Burden, asked Mr Sunak how he could defend the bet “when people are struggling to pay their food and fuel bills in this country”.
She also pointed out that the bet was worth more than the three cost of living payments for those on low incomes combined, asking if he “really understood the financial pressures [people] are facing”.
Mr Sunak said: “Well if I’m being totally honest, I’m not a betting person and I was taken totally by surprise in the middle of that interview.”
Though he refused to admit it was a mistake, he said: “The point I was trying to get across was actually about the Rwanda policy and about tackling illegal migration”.
He added: “I just was underlying my absolute commitment to this policy and my desire to get it through.”
The SNP have called for a probe into the incident. The party’s cabinet office spokesperson, Kirsty Blackman MP has written to the government’s ethics adviser, Laurie Magnus and cabinet secretary, Simon Case.
She said: “It is shameful and grotesque that Rishi Sunak, one of the richest men in the UK, is betting money on whether he can ship vulnerable refugees abroad in time for the election”.
Mr Sunak’s flagship Rwanda bill has long proved problematic as it now makes its way through the Lords. The bill suffered a major rebellion from Mr Sunak’s own colleagues, with 60 Tory MPs signing amendments to the legislation.
Though the plans did pass successfully through the Commons, it has become a major point of contention both in the party and in the Sunak premiership.
Even if the bill passes both houses with no amendments, question marks remain over whether flights will be able to take off for Rwanda by the election. It is likely deportations will still face legal challenges as individual migrants are prepared for removal from Britain.