Home Secretary James Cleverly is facing calls to quit after joking about spiking his wife’s drink with a date rape drug.

Mr Cleverly apologised after his “ironic joke” at a No10 reception, which came just hours after the Home Office announced plans to crack down on spiking.

But women’s rights group the Fawcett Society said the comments were “sickening” and called for Mr Cleverly to resign.

Domestic abuse charity Women’s Aid said it was vital for ministers to take the problem of spiking seriously.

Mr Cleverly told female guests at the Downing Street event that “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”.

The Home Secretary met his wife Susie at university and the couple have two children.

Braintree and Witham Times: Home Secretary and Essex MP James Cleverly outside Number 10Home Secretary and Essex MP James Cleverly outside Number 10 (Image: PA)

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 Mr Cleverly said his comments were made in a private setting, but he recognised they were inappropriate.

Mr Cleverly has previously described tackling violence against women and girls as a “personal priority” and called spiking a “perverse” crime.

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.”

But Fawcett Society chief executive Jemima Olchawski said: “It’s sickening that the senior minister in charge of keeping women safe thinks that something as terrifying as drugging women is a laughing matter.

“No wonder women don’t feel safe.

“We know that ‘banter’ is the excuse under which misogyny is allowed to thrive.

“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.”

In a statement, Women’s Aid said: “We rely on political leaders to take action to end violence against women and girls, and the misogyny that underpins it. It is vital that spiking survivors see ministers treating the subject seriously and not downplaying the reality so many women face.”

Senior Labour figures also condemned Mr Cleverly’s “appalling” comments.

Alex Davies-Jones, shadow minister for domestic violence and safeguarding, said: “‘It was a joke’ is the most tired excuse in the book and no one is buying it.

“If the Home Secretary is serious about tackling spiking and violence against women and girls, then that requires a full cultural change. The ‘banter’ needs to stop and it has to start at the top.”

Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said: “Spiking is a disturbing and serious crime which is having a devastating impact on young women’s lives.

"It is truly unbelievable that the Home Secretary made such appalling jokes on the very same day the Government announced new policy on spiking.

Braintree and Witham Times: Shadow home secretary Yvette CooperShadow home secretary Yvette Cooper (Image: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire)

“It suggests that despite being the Cabinet minister ultimately responsible for tackling violence against women and girls he doesn’t get how serious this is.

"Victims will understandably be questioning if they can trust him to take this vile crime seriously.”

Ministers have pledged to modernise the language used in legislation to make clear spiking is a crime and announced a series of other measures as part of a crackdown.

But they stopped short of making spiking – when someone puts drugs into another’s drink or directly into their body without their knowledge – a specific offence.

Between May 2022 and April 2023, there were 6,732 reports of spiking in England and Wales – including 957 reported incidents of needle spiking.

On average, police receive 561 reports of spiking a month, with the majority being made by women often after incidents in or near bars and nightclubs, according to a Home Office report.