The home secretary has denied making the comment about Stockton North during prime minister’s questions yesterday.
It came after Alex Cunningham, the Labour MP for Stockton North, asked Rishi Sunak why 34% of children in his constituency lived in poverty.
Cleverly has insisted that he actually called Cunningham “a shit MP”.
But in an extraordinary intervention, Ben Houchen, the Conservative mayor for Tees Valley, effectively called his party colleague a liar by demanding he say sorry.
In a statement posted on X (formerly Twitter), he 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in the in the industries of the future including a new era of steelmaking, this type of language only furthers the outdated and inaccurate stereotypes we’ve battled for years.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 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.”
When the row erupted yesterday, a spokesman for Cleverly said: “He didn’t say that. He wouldn’t say that. He’s disappointed anyone would accuse him of it.”
But in response to Houchen’s comments, a source close to the home secretary said: “James made a comment. He called Alex Cunningham a shit 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.”