James Cleverly has apologised for calling a Labour MP “s***”, but denied claims he called his Stockton North constituency a “s***hole”.
In an extraordinary development, a source close to Mr Cleverly said the home secretary did not call Stockton a “s***hole”, he instead said that Labour’s Alex Cunningham was a “s*** MP”.
The source added: “He apologises for unparliamentary language. As was made clear yesterday, he would never criticise Stockton. He has campaigned in Stockton and is clear that it is a great place.”
But Mr Cunningham told The Independent he was “content” Mr Cleverly had made the “s***hole” remark, adding that “he doesn’t need to apologise to me, he needs to apologise to my constituents”.
Incidentally, Mr Cunningham said the home secretary had not apologised to him, noting that he was only sorry for using “unparliamentary language”.
“I will settle for nothing less than an apology from James Cleverly to my constituents, in person at the despatch box,” Mr Cunningham said.
It came after Ben Houchen, Tees Valley mayor, accused Mr Cleverly of using “childish and unprofessional language” to describe the constituency, which sits on his patch.
Mr Houchen, a rising star in the Conservative Party, launched a blistering blue-on-blue attack, saying: “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future in the industries of the future including a new era of steelmaking, this type of language only furthers the outdated and inaccurate stereotypes we’ve battled for years.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.”
Mr Cunningham alleged Mr Cleverly made the “s***hole” remark in response to his question at PMQs about child poverty in the area.
It is the second time in his two weeks as home secretary that Mr Cleverly has faced a similar allegation. A week ago he refused to deny having described Rishi Sunak’s Rwanda deportation policy as “bats***”.
The row was reignited on Thursday when The Independent revealed Mr Cunningham had invited Mr Cleverly to visit his constituency.
Shadow courts minister Mr Cunningham said: “I will show him our conservation areas, our ambition for Stockton, Billingham and elsewhere and have him visit our cultural quarter and our huge industrial base.
“But I will also show him the communities where 34 per cent of children live in poverty – the damage done by his government’s policies and finish at North Tees hospital which needed replacing over a decade ago.”
Mr Cunningham added that the home secretary had “shamed himself”. He said: “That a cabinet member would have such a disgraceful and foul-mouthed attack on my community beggars belief. He is unfit for such high office.”
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