PM 'considers matter closed' after home secretary apologises for date rape joke

By John Mercury December 27, 2023

No action will be taken against James Cleverly over his date rape joke as the prime minister “considers the matter closed”.

The home secretary has been facing calls to quit after joking about putting a date rape drug in his wife’s drink – hours after the Home Office announced plans to crack down on spiking.

Mr Cleverly apologised for the remarks but has faced calls to resign by a women’s charity while Labour accused Rishi Sunak of an “absence of leadership, accountability and integrity” for failing to take action against him.

Asked for the prime minister’s thoughts on the comment, his official spokeswoman said it was “right that the home secretary apologised”.

She added: “The prime minister considers the matter closed and he and the home secretary are focused on the action that the government is taking to tackle spiking and protect women and girls.”

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She said she was not aware of Mr Sunak and Mr Cleverly having spoken about the incident.

Asked whether Mr Sunak was concerned about the type of message the remarks might give to victims of spiking, his spokeswoman reiterated that Mr Sunak and Mr Cleverly were focused on taking “action”, adding: “That is why we made sure that existing laws recognise the threat that spiking poses to women and girls.

“And that is why we set out also a raft of measures to offer immediate support to victims, alongside mandatory training for doormen, investing in research for rapid testing kits – all announced by the Home Office in a package just last week.

James Cleverly and his wife Susannah Cleverly arrive to attend a state dinner in honor of Britain's King Charles and Queen Camilla at the Chateau de Versailles (Versailles Palace) in Versailles
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James Cleverly and his wife Susannah Cleverly

“So our focus is on making sure that we are taking the action required to protect women and girls.”

Mr Cleverly made the comments during a private conversation at a Number 10 reception.

The home secretary told female guests “a little bit of Rohypnol in her drink every night” was “not really illegal if it’s only a little bit”, the Sunday Mirror reported.

Mr Cleverly also laughed that the secret to a long marriage was ensuring your spouse was “someone who is always mildly sedated so she can never realise there are better men out there”.

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Conversations at Downing Street receptions are usually understood to be “off the record”, but the Sunday Mirror decided to break that convention because of Mr Cleverly’s position and the subject matter.

Allies of the cabinet minister said his comments were made in a private setting but he recognises they were inappropriate.

A spokesman for the home secretary said: “In what was always understood as a private conversation, James, the home secretary tackling spiking, made what was clearly meant to be an ironic joke – for which he apologises.”

However, his apology was not well received by the Fawcett Society chief executive Jemima Olchawski, who called it “sickening” that “the senior minister in charge of keeping women safe thinks that something as terrifying as drugging women is a laughing matter”.

She said: “How can we trust him to seriously address violence against women and girls? We deserve better than this from our lawmakers and Cleverly should resign.”

Labour turned the heat on to Mr Sunak’s leadership, with shadow home office minister Alex Davies Jones saying: “The country deserves so much better.

“There is an absence of leadership, accountability and integrity in this government and we’re all paying the price.”

Labour’s shadow home secretary, Yvette Cooper, said: “Across the country there will be young victims whose lives have been devastated by spiking attacks over the festive period.

“Yet neither the prime minister nor the home secretary seem to understand the seriousness of this vile crime, or how damaging it is for the confidence of victims that the cabinet minister in charge of tackling violence against women and girls is making jokes about spiking in this way.

“Ministers need to set out what they are going to do to rebuild trust and ensure everyone takes this vile crime seriously rather than dismissing the incident as ‘case closed'”.

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