British interior minister James Cleverly apologised on Sunday after he was reported to have joked about spiking his wife’s drink with a sedative known for its use as a date-rape drug.

The Sunday Mirror tabloid reported that Cleverly, one of the most senior ministers in Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s government, had joked to female guests at an event this month that “a little bit” of the drug in his wife’s drink every night was “not really illegal”.

He reportedly joked 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”.

The newspaper also said it came the same day Cleverly, the minister overseeing law enforcement, announced new measures to tackle drink-spiking, including changes to legislation.

“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,” a spokesperson for Cleverly said in a statement.

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