James Cleverly sorry for derogatory MP jibe but denies slur aimed at Stockton

James Cleverly apologised for using "unparliamentary language" about Stockton North MP Alex Cunningham - but denies calling the town a "sh**hole". Credit: PA

The Home Secretary has apologised for using "unparliamentary" language about an MP for Teesside.

James Cleverly has been under pressure to apologise following claims he called Alex Cunningham’s Stockton North constituency a "sh**hole" during Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday 23 November.

A source close to Mr Cleverly said his off-the-cuff remark in the Commons had been directed towards the MP, rather than his constituency.

"James made a comment. He called Alex Cunningham a shit MP. He apologises for unparliamentary language," the source said.

"As was made clear yesterday, he would never criticise Stockton. He’s campaigned in Stockton and is clear that it is a great place."

Mr Cunningham, however, said the Home Secretary "definitely said what he said" and therefore owes his constituents an apology.

Earlier on Thursday, the Conservative mayor for Tees Valley waded into the row, calling on Mr Cleverly to apologise and said he had dragged Stockton's name "through the mud".

Lord Houchen said in a post on social media site X: "I am not interested in excuses and I will always put our area above party politics and it's clear to me that the Home Secretary should apologise for dragging Stockton's name through the mud.

"Having made huge progress in recent years with major investment, thousands of jobs and Teesside forging a brighter industries of the future, including a new era of steel-making, this type of language only furthers the outdated and inaccurate stereotypes we've battled for years."

He went on to tweet: "Childish and unprofessional language used by Westminster politicians, who should know better, does nothing to help our plans for progress."

In a later post on X Lord Houchen said: "I’m pleased James Cleverly has apologised for using unparliamentary language

"Whatever was said, the speculation dragged Stockton’s name through the mud, which is unacceptable

"We’re all human & he’s a good guy who made a mistake

"Now let’s get back to building Teesside."

Alex Cunningham, the Labour MP for Stockton North, claimed the slur had been used about his constituency in a response to a question on child poverty directed at Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.

Mr Cunningham asked Mr Sunak: "Why are 34% of children in my constituency living in poverty?"

In the audio of the interaction, as the Prime Minister took to the Despatch box, Labour said the Conservative MP could be heard to say "because it is a sh**hole".

A spokesperson for Mr Cleverly said: "He did not say that, and would not. He’s disappointed people would accuse him of doing so."

On Wednesday, a Conservative spokesperson said: "No Conservative MP made any negative remarks about Stockton."

Mr Cunningham said the audio of the comment was "clear and has been checked and checked and checked again".

On Thursday 23 November, shadow Commons leader, Lucy Powell, addressed the claims during business questions and asked Commons leader, Penny Mordaunt: "Does she agree with me that besmirching another honourable member's constituency goes against all the courtesies of this place and it is utterly disrespectful to their constituents?

"Will she ensure the Home Secretary comes to this House and apologise? This sort of foul language may be accurate when describing Government policy, but it is not for the great town of Stockton."

Ms Mordaunt reiterated that Mr Cleverly has denied the allegation, adding: "I believe him."

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