Keir Starmer has been branded a Margaret Thatcher “fan boy” as he was repeatedly mocked over his praise for the former Tory leader at Prime Minister’s Questions.

SNP Westminster leader Stephen Flynn also joked Sir Keir was a “fellow Thatcherite” of Rishi Sunak.

It followed the Labour leader using an article in the Sunday Telegraph to praise Mrs Thatcher for trying to “drag Britain out of its stupor by setting loose our natural entrepreneurialism”.

He cited her and Labour’s Tony Blair and Clement Attlee as a PM who sought to deliver “meaningful change” by acting “in service of the British people, rather than dictating to them”.

The warm words, an apparent attempt to woo Tory voters, led to a backlash from the Left.

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Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar also held a press huddle to declare that Mrs Thatcher had “decimated” Scotland when she was in Number10 from 1979 to 1990.

At PMQs, Tory MP Michael Fabricant praised Mrs Thatcher’s legacy and asked Mr Sunak if he shared his “boundless joy that on the road to Damascus and in recognition of her great heritage and all that she achieved, another fan boy has joined her great beliefs - the Leader of the Opposition”.

Mr Sunak told the Lichfield MP: “But he is absolutely right. I am always happy to welcome new Thatcherites from all sides of this House. But it does say something about the Leader of the Opposition that the main female strong leader he could praise is Margaret Thatcher and not his own fantastic deputy [Angela Rayner].”

Mr Flynn also provoked loud laughter when he asked Mr Sunak: “Is the Prime Minister worried that he is projected to be the first Conservative Party leader to lose a general election to a fellow Thatcherite?”

After deputy speaker Eleanor Laing was forced to calm the chamber, Mr Sunak’s reply hinted at tax cuts in the spring.

He said: “Margaret Thatcher’s view was, cut inflation then cut taxes and then win an election, and that’s very much my plan.”

Sir Keir and Mr Sunak clashed primarily over the UK Government’s new treaty with Rwanda to process asylum seekers in order to deter illegal boat crossings over the Channel. 

The Labour leader called it a costly “gimmick” and said the UK Government had sent three home secretaries to the African state so far, but not a single asylum seeker.

He said the plan gave Rwanda “hundreds of millions of pounds for nothing in return”, and allowed the country to send some of its refugees to the UK.

He said: “If the purpose of the Rwanda gimmick was to solve a political headache of the Tories’ own making, to get people out of the country who they simply couldn’t deal with, then it’s been a resounding success – after all they’ve managed to send three home secretaries there, an achievement for which the whole country can be grateful. So apart from members of his own Cabinet, how many people has the Prime Minister sent to Rwanda?”

Mr Sunak replied: “We will do everything it takes to get this scheme working so that we can indeed stop the boats and that’s why this week we have signed a new legally binding treaty with Rwanda which together with new legislation will address all the concerns that have been raised. Because everyone should be in no doubt about our absolute commitment to stop the boats and get flights off.”

Mr Sunak said “deterrence is critical” before criticising Labour for pledging to scrap the scheme, adding: “Once again instead of being on the side of the British people, he finds himself on the side of the people smugglers.”

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Sir Keir Starmer said the Government had scaled down its predictions for how many people would be deported to Rwanda, adding: “The current number of people sent there remains stubbornly consistent – zero. At the same time, Article 19 of the treaty says the parties shall make arrangements for the United Kingdom to resettle a portion of Rwanda’s most vulnerable refugees in the United Kingdom.

“So, how many refugees from Rwanda will be coming here to the UK under the treaty?”

Mri Sunak said the treaty addressed “all the concerns of the Supreme Court”, which ruled the policy unlawful last month, as Rwanda could not be relied upon to act correctly.

Sir Keir questioned if the PM had read the new deal, saying: “Article 4 says the scheme is capped at Rwanda’s capacity, that is 100; Article 5 says Rwanda can turn them away if they want; Article 19 says we actually have to take refugees from Rwanda.

“How much did this fantastic deal cost us?”

Mr Sunak replied: “There is no incremental money that has been provided. This is … ensuring that the concerns of the Supreme Court have all been addressed in a legally binding treaty that will allow us to operationalise the scheme.”

Sir Keir continued: “Annexe A says on top of the £140m he has already showered on Rwanda, when we send people there under this treaty we have to pay for their accommodation and their upkeep for five years.” 

Mr Sunak said: “If you believe in stopping the boats, as we on this side of the House do, you need to have an effective deterrent and returns agreement. It is as simple as that.”

Sir Keir said the Rwandan Government “saw this Prime Minister coming a mile off”, adding: “You can only imagine their delight, their sheer disbelief, when having already banked £140m million of British taxpayer money without housing a single asylum seeker, the Prime Minister appears again with another offer they can’t refuse. A gimmick that will send taxpayers’ money to Rwanda, refugees from Rwanda to Britain, and won’t stop the boats.”