Conservative leadership hopeful Andrea Leadsom has faced strong backlash after suggesting that she is better placed to be prime minister over Theresa May, because motherhood gives her a "very real stake" in Britain's future. The energy minister made the remarks in an interview with the Times, but later sent a tweet saying it was "the exact opposite" of what she said and added that she was "disgusted".
The Times has defended its report, with deputy editor Emma Tucker posting a transcript of the section of the interview containing Leadsom's quote on Twitter. Journalist Rachel Sylvester 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."
The story featured on the Times' front page prompted a sharp reaction from Leadsom, who said she was "beyond anger and disgust".
"The reporting of what I said is beneath contempt," she said in a statement, according to the BBC. "In front of the Times correspondent and photographer, I made clear repeatedly that nothing I said should be used in any way to suggest that Theresa May not having children had any bearing whatever on the leadership election.
"I expect the Times to retract the article and the accompanying headline."
Leadsom's comments have sparked outrage from politicians. Totnes MP Sarah Wollaston said Leadsom has "repeatedly shown that she lacks judgement and is not the right person to lead the nation. She should withdraw now".
Rutland and Melton MP Alan Duncan said: "I'm gay and in a civil partnership. No children, but 10 nieces and nephews. Do I not have a stake in the future of the country? Vile."
Speaking to BBC Radio 4's Today programme, Deputy Commons Leader Therese Coffey said: "Andrea is a friend, I know she's not a malicious person". She added: "I don't think it matters whether somebody has children. The next prime minister, what matters is what they are going to do for every child in this country."
Yesterday (8 July), May called on Leadsom to sign her "clean campaign pledge" in a bid to avoid a repetition of the bitter and divisive campaign surrounding the EU referendum from creeping into the leadership battle. The five point pledge calls on both candidates to respect that "campaigning in all forms stays within the acceptable limits of political debate".