Tory leadership contender Andrea Leadsom has hit back after appearing to suggest that motherhood makes her a better choice to become prime minister over Theresa May. The Times quoted Leadsom as saying that as a mother, she has a "very real stake" in Britain's future.
The article has sparked a furious reaction from Leadsom, and the Times released an audio recording of the key part of Leadsom's interview on Twitter. The newspaper's deputy editor, Emma Tucker also posted a transcript of the section on the social media platform.
Speaking outside her Northamptonshire home today (9 July), Leadsom issued a statement and said: "In the course of a lengthy interview yesterday, I was repeatedly asked about my children and I repeatedly made it clear that I did not want this to be in any way a feature of the campaign.
"I am disgusted at the way this has been presented. I want to be crystal clear that everyone has an equal stake in our society and in the future of our country."
Leadsom said she believed that the campaign must be "principled and honourable". Following a highly divisive EU referendum campaign, home secretary Theresa May called on her leadership rival to sign a clean campaign pledge to ensure that campaigning "in all forms stays within the acceptable limits of political debate".
In the interview with the Times, Leadsom was asked: "During the debates you repeatedly said 'as a mum'. Do you feel like a mum in politics?"
Leadsom responded: "Yes. I am sure Theresa will be really sad she doesn't have children so I don't want this to be 'Andrea has children, Theresa hasn't' because I think that would be really horrible, but genuinely I feel that being a mum means you have a very real stake in the future of our country, a tangible stake.
"She possibly has nieces, nephews, lots of people, but I have children who are going to have children who will directly be a part of what happens next."
Rachel Sylvester, the Times journalist who wrote the article, said she was "baffled" by Leadsom's reaction.
The comments by the energy minister sparked an angry response from politicians and social media users. Green Party leader Natalie Bennett wrote: "Andrea Leadsom apparently thinks the c, 20% of women who won't have children are second-class citizens. Tories steering back to 1950s?"
Leadsom also incurred the wrath of Conservative MPs. The minister for small business Anna Soubry said her remarks show she is not prime ministerial material, adding: "She should do us all a favour and step aside…"
Soubry's comments were echoed by Totnes MP Sarah Wollaston and Rutland and Melton MP Alan Duncan, while former Labour deputy PM John Prescott described Leadsom's comment on motherhood as "sneering" and that he expects her to withdraw from the leadership race.
Prime Minister David Cameron said he would not comment on the leadership contest.