The Home Secretary has apologised for a comment he made in PMQs yesterday (November 23) following backlash from both MPs and residents.

James Cleverly, who was accused of calling Stockton a "s**thole," has apologised for using "unparliamentary language" -  but denies using that exact term, claiming instead he was calling Stockton North's Alex Cunningham, a "s**t MP" instead.

Mr Cleverly had earler called oupn by Mr Cunningham to apologise for his comment, while Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen called the language used by the Home Secretary "childish" and "unprofessional".

The Northern Echo:

Meanwhile, Matt Vickers, MP for Stockton North, said he would be demanding an apology from the Home Secretary "if it emerged" he had said the slur.

In a statement earlier today, a source close to Mr Cleverly said: "James made a comment. He called Alex Cunningham a s**t 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."

The comment was heard in the chamber after Mr Cunningham asked the Prime Minister why 34 per cent of children in Stockton North are living in poverty.

Mr Cunningham had demanded an apology from the Braintree MP for the derogatory remark yesterday.

The Northern Echo:

Making a point of order in the Commons later on Wednesday, Mr Cunningham said: “Before the Prime Minister answered, the Home Secretary chose to add in his pennyworth.

“Yes, I have contacted his office advising him I planned to name him, but sadly he has chosen not to be in the chamber.

“He was seen and heard to say ‘because it’s a s**thole’.

“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.”

The Northern Echo:

In a statement on X, formerly known as Twitter, Mr 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future in the industries of the future including a new era of steelmaking, this type of language only furthers the outdated and inaccurate stereotypes we’ve battled for years.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 to progress.”

He later added: “I’m pleased James Cleverly has apologised for using unparliamentary language

“Whatever was said, the speculation dragged Stockton’s name through the mud, which is unacceptable

“We’re all human and he’s a good guy who made a mistake

“Now let’s get back to building Teesside.”

The Northern Echo:

A spokeswoman for the Prime Minister confirmed Rishi Sunak continues to have confidence in the Home Secretary.

They said No 10 has seen the apology provided by the Home Secretary's team and have nothing else to add.

The Northern Echo spoke with residents on Stockton High Street this morning, with many of them left upset or disappointed by the slur.

The Northern Echo:

William Rogers, from Stockton, said the situation makes him and others worry for both the town and the North.

He said: "The Tory party doesn't think anything of the North East of England.

"[I feel] disgusted, they just don't care about us one iota."

The Northern Echo:

Lee Johnson, 47, who has lived in Stockton for four years, said: "It's just neglect. They're not just neglecting Stockton - Middlesbrough is in massive debt, bus services are horrific.

"I used to live in the south, but I was born in Middlesbrough - the gap is so wide. It doesn't surprise me that someone would say that.

"He probably doesn't live anywhere near this area, if he did, he'd probably take more care.

"Criticising somewhere where you don't allocate adequate funding, it's a redundant statement."

The Northern Echo:

Margaret Agar, 76, from Hartburn, said the town is trying "really hard" and has made a lot of improvements, citing the Waterfront Project as an example.

She believes the alleged comment was irresponsible and said it casts a shadow over the town, and has called for a public written apology.

She said: "We want people to visit, and remarks like that, will put people off coming here. They'll think it's a down and out place and it isn't.

"It's not fair, it's putting a downer on us."

The Northern Echo: In his statement, Mr Vickers said: "I have only seen what others have seen and understand there’s some debate about what was said and by whom.

"I understand some have suggested it was a reference to Mr Cunningham’s failings as an MP rather than a place.

"If such a slur has been made about Stockton North, it is offensive and plain wrong. I will be speaking to James Cleverly and if it is the case that he has cast such a slur on our town will be demanding an apology.

The Northern Echo:

"Stockton is a place I’m proud to call home unlike the Labour candidate parachuted in from London.

"It’s an incredible place and the government is investing hugely in it.

"This week, thanks to the Conservative government, we secured £20millon to improve Billingham town centre, work is already underway building our new diagnostic hospital in Stockton town centre, we’ve seen £57.5 million pounds of investment in Stockton’s schools, we’ve got funding towards a new vocational skills centre, we’ve seen unprecedented investment in Billingham station and are about to see the same at Eaglescliffe station.

"People from Teesside will be able to get jobs in the UKs first and biggest Freeport and businesses are flocking to invest here as a result.

The Northern Echo:

"I’m proud to be from Stockton, welcome the investment in it and will continue to fight for more."

Cllr Niall Innes, Conservative candidate to be Stockton North MP, called the alleged comment "offensive" and "disgraceful" this afternoon.

He said: “I understand that there has been much discussion around who said what. Regardless of the Westminster squabbles, Stockton is a fantastic place to live, work and represent.

“The alleged comments that were made yesterday in reference to Stockton North are extremely offensive, disgraceful and disrespectful to the people of Stockton. I am therefore calling on the Home Secretary to apologise should it be found that he made such degrading remarks.

“Stockton is the place I call home and I am proud to be part of a strong Conservative Team, fighting Stockton’s corner and delivering for residents. Just the other day our Conservative government announced £20 million in levelling up funding for Billingham. While Labour like to get political mileage out of issues, the Conservatives prefer to deliver.

The Northern Echo:

“Teesside is truly on the up and I will keep playing my part and work with Conservative colleagues to deliver even more. Anyone in any doubt of how great Stockton is only has to visit to see what a vibrant place it is.”

Chris McDonald and Joe Dancey, Labour's candidates for Stockton North and Stockton West, said the Conservatives had been caught out with the Home Secretary's comments.

They said: “What is said in Parliament matters and James Cleverly has been caught bang to rights.

“The Conseratives know they've been busted talking our town down, which is why they're changing their story more times than we've had hot dinners.

"But Conservative spin doctors should have learnt by now that people in Stockton can smell a rat.

“There are serious questions for the Chairman of the Conservative Party who this morning said that he didn’t hear anything.

“Matt Vickers MP must also explain why as Deputy Chairman of the Conservative Party he's putting his party loyalty before Stockton and not joining Ben Houchen who says the Home Secretary is ‘dragging Stockton’s name through the mud’.

“Given these changing statements from the Home Secretary, this must now be matter for the Ministerial Code and the Home Secretary should come to Stockton to apologise in person for the way he has described our town and disrespected our people.”

The Northern Echo:

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At the time, Mr Cleverly's spokesperson has denied that the Home Secretary made the comment and added he was disappointed to be accused of doing so.

They said: “He did not say that, and would not.

“He’s disappointed people would accuse him of doing so.”