James Cleverly yesterday admitted he used “unparliamentary” language to describe a Labour MP in prime minister’s questions.
Cleverly had denied the claim he called Alex Cunningham’s Stockton North constituency a “s***hole” in response to a question from the Labour MP in the House of Commons.
A source close to Cleverly said the home secretary did not call Stockton a “s***hole”, as the accusation held — he instead said that Cunningham was a “s*** MP”.
The source added: “He would never criticise Stockton. He is clear it is a great place”.
The comment came after the Labour MP for Stockton North asked Rishi Sunak during prime minister’s questions why 34 per cent of children in his constituency were living in poverty.
However, Cunningham has said overnight that he “won’t let [the row] rest”, saying Cleverly apologised for his language, but not to him or to Stockton.
He said in a post on X (formerly Twitter): “He didn’t apologise to me. He apologised for using unparliamentary language. But he used it against our area — not me — and I won’t let it rest”.
In another post, he said: “He didn’t apologise to me at all — he apologised for using unparliamentary language. But let’s be clear its [sic] to the people of Stockton he needs to apologise. It is them and our borough he insulted — not me. It’s clear on the audio”.
Cleverly’s clarification came after Ben Houchen, the Conservative Tees Valley mayor, accused the home secretary of using “childish and unprofessional language” to describe the constituency.
Houchen said: “I’m not interested in excuses and I will always put our area above party politics, and it is 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 future in the industries of the future including a new era of steelmaking, this type of language only furthers the outdated and inaccurate stereotypes we’ve battled for years.
“We’re a wonderful place and a passionate and proud community, and people across the world are looking at the exciting future that is emerging before us – but childish and unprofessional language used by Westminster politicians, who should know better, does nothing to help our plans for progress.”
Making a point of order in the commons on Wednesday after Cleverly’s remark but before his clarification, Cunningham said: “Before the prime minister answered, the home secretary chose to add in his pennyworth. He was seen and heard to say ‘because it’s a shithole’.
“Yes, I have contacted his office advising him I planned to name him, but sadly he has chosen not to be in the chamber.
“I know he is denying being the culprit, but the audio is clear and has been checked, and checked, and checked again.
“There is no doubt that these comments shame the home secretary, this rotten government, and the Tory Party. He is clearly unfit for his high office.”
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