James Cleverly has admitted to calling a Labour MP “s***” – but denied describing Stockton-on-Tees as a “s***hole”, a source has said.
The home secretary came under scrutiny for his language after this week’s Prime Minister’s Questions, with claims he made the rude remark about the northern town following a question from Stockton North MP Alex Cunningham regarding child poverty in the area.
Making a point of order on Wednesday afternoon, Mr Cunningham told the Commons the audio had been “checked, checked, and checked again” – and the comment brought “shame” on the minister and the government.
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Calls continued to grow for an apology from Mr Cleverly, with the Tory mayor of Teesside Lord Houchen joining in to accuse the minister of “dragging Stockton’s name through the mud”.
The issue was also raised during business questions on Thursday, when shadow Commons leader Lucy Powell said: “This sort of foul language may be accurate when describing government policy, but it is not for the great town of Stockton.”
On Wednesday, a spokesman for Mr Cleverly denied he made the remark, saying: “He did not say that, and would not. He’s disappointed people would accuse him of doing so.”
But following the intervention from Lord Houchen, a source close to the home secretary admitted the minister had used “unparliamentary language” – though it wasn’t directed at the town.
The source told Sky News: “James made a comment. He called Alex Cunningham a s*** MP. He apologises for unparliamentary language.
“As was made clear yesterday, he would never criticise Stockton. He’s campaigned in Stockton and is clear that it is a great place.”
It is not the first time Mr Cleverly’s language has been brought into question.
Last week, the home secretary was accused of calling the government’s Rwanda scheme to send asylum seekers to the east African nation “bats***” – a claim he repeatedly refused to deny.