Labour MP invites James Cleverly to Stockton after claims home secretary called it a ‘s***hole’

Exclusive: Alex Cunningham asks home secretary to come and see the area’s cultural and commerical highlights after Commons row

Adam Forrest
Political Correspondent
Thursday 23 November 2023 12:37
MP appears to call Stockton North 's***hole' after Sunak grilled on child poverty

James Cleverly has been invited to visit the north east constituency he allegedly called a “s***hole” to see it for himself.

Alex Cunningham, the Labour MP for Stockton North, claimed the home secretary made the offensive remark in the Commons on Wednesday.

Mr Cleverly has denied calling Stockton a “s***hole” – but Mr Cunningham continues to demand an apology, and wants the cabinet minister to see the vibrancy of the area in person.

“I invite him to come to Stockton and 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,” the frontbencher told The Independent.

Mr Cunningham added: “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.”

The shadow courts minister claimed Mr Cleverly had “shamed himself”. He added: “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.”

However, the home secretary has categorically denied using the term “s***hole”. Mr Cleverly’s spokesman said: “He did not say that, and would not. He’s disappointed people would accuse him of doing so.”

The s***hole comment is said to have taken place as Mr Cunningham challenged Rishi Sunak on the level of child poverty in his constituency. Speaking at PMQs, he added: “Why are 34 per cent of children in my constituency living in poverty?”

Alex Cunningham, who will not be seeking re-election in Stockton North

Mr Cunningham claims Mr Cleverly was “seen and heard” to say: “Because it’s a s***hole.”

With the audio not entirely clear, some people on social have suggested that Mr Cleverly may have said: “It’s because you’re a s*** MP.”

Making a point of order in the Commons later in the day to demand an apology, Mr Cunningham said: “The audio is clear and has been checked, and checked, and checked again.”

Deputy Speaker Dame Eleanor Laing said it was her understanding that Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle “didn’t hear any remark of the kind from the chair at the time”.

She added: “I think we all know that it’s very difficult in the noisy atmosphere of prime minister’s questions to discern exactly what someone says.”

No 10 also downplayed the row on Thursday, suggesting Mr Sunak did not hear any swearing. “The speaker of the house and deputy have said they did not hear any remark. [The PM did not hear it] that I am aware of”.

The alleged incident comes days after Mr Cleverly refused to deny that he called Mr Sunak’s Rwanda deportation policy “bats***”.

The PM’s new home secretary – appointed after Suella Braverman was sacked – said he “did not remember” using the expletive” to describe the Tory government’s flagship “stop the boats” policy.

The Independent understands Mr Cleverly is not going to complain about Mr Cunningham’s allegation.

Responding to the Labour MP at the despatch box, Mr Sunak said: “It’s this government that has ensured that across our country 1.7 million fewer people are living in … poverty as a result of the actions of this government.”

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