Andrea Leadsom has become embroiled in a media row after apologising for remarks about motherhood making her a better candidate for prime minister - an allegation she had previously derided as “the worst gutter journalism I’ve ever seen”.
The ex-Conservative leadership hopeful had accused Times journalist Rachel Sylvester of fabricating claims she said having children gave her an edge over rival Theresa May.
Sylvester stuck by her story, first publishing a transcript and audio of the controversial interview, before taking to the airwaves to defend Friday’s Times front page.
But today it was revealed Leadsom had apologised by text to May, who is unable to have children with her husband of 35 years.
“I’ve already said to Theresa how very sorry I am for any hurt I have caused and how that article said completely the opposite of what I said and believe,” Leadsom told the Daily Telegraph.
The rowback prompted questions as to why the South Northamptonshire MP had launched such a fierce attack on The Times for printing “the exact opposite of what I said”, only to concede to apologising to May days later.
Piers Morgan and author Nick Cohen both called on Leadsom to extend a public apology to Sylvester.
Leadsom’s original outburst had prompted huge scorn from her Conservative colleagues.
Tory MP Alan Duncan branded the comments “vile”, while small business minister Anna Soubry said they were proof Leadsom “is not PM material”.
“She should do us all a favour, including herself, and step aside,” Soubry added.
Former communities secretary Eric Pickles also commented the gaffe had revealed she was an “amateur who has already failed”.
Some of Leadom’s supporters defended her in the aftermath, former MP Louise Mensch claiming she had only apologised for “[the] Times misrepresenting her”.
Nadine Dorries also accused journalists of having followed instruction to “get Andrea”.
She added that Leadsom had “talked about being a mum”, adding: “It gives her a holistic perspective. She should talk about it more.”
To counter the claims Leadsom had been unfairly smeared, The Times released a transcript of the original interview that revealed Sylvester asked the MP about her repeated use of the phrase “as a mum” during debates on the EU.
Without asking her to draw a contrast with her rival, Leadsom proceeded to discuss how May “possibly has nieces, nephews, lots of people. But I have children”.
The full transcript released by The Times reads...
RS: What is the main difference between you and Theresa May?
AL: In terms of the country I think I absolutely understand how the economy works and can really focus on turning it around. In terms of personal qualities I see myself as one an optimist and two a huge member of a huge family and that’s important, my kids are a huge part of my life, my sisters my two brothers who are half brothers my mum and step dad’s sons who are very close, huge part of a family so very grounded and normal, enormously optimistic.
RS: Does your family inform your politics?
AL: Oh, totally
RS: During the euro debates, you said several times ‘as a mum’ . Do you feel like a mum in politics?
RS: Why and how?
AL: So, really carefully, because I am sure, I don’t really know Theresa very well but I am sure she 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 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. So it really keeps you focussed on what are you really saying, because what it means is you don’t want a downturn but never mind, ten years hence it will all be fine, my children will be starting their lives in that next ten years so I have a real stake in the next year, the next two.
Speaking ahead of May’s leadership launch on Monday, her aides said the home secretary was “grateful” for Leadsom’s text apologising and replied with her thanks.
They added that May has maintained she knew no offence was intended to be caused.