Andrea Leadsom said she was “disgusted” over suggestions she claimed that being a mother gave her an advantage over Theresa May in the fight to become prime minister.
The front page story in Saturday’s The Times was headlined “being a mother gives me edge on May – Leadsom”.
It featured quotes from Leadsom discussing the differences between herself and her fellow Tory leadership candidate.
The energy minister told The Times that being a mother “means you have a very real stake in the future of our country” but insisted she was not trying to make it an issue in the Tory leadership election.
Leadsom, who has two sons and a daughter, said being a member of a “huge family” was an important part of who she was.
The Times quoted her as saying: “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 she spoke of the extra perspective she had from being a mother: “It means you don’t want a downturn but, never mind, 10 years hence it will all be fine. My children will be starting their lives in that next 10 years so I have a real stake in the next year, the next two.”
But she added: “Genuinely I feel that being a mum means you have a very real stake in the future of our country, a tangible stake.”
Asked to contrast herself with May, she said: “I see myself as one, an optimist, and two, a member of a huge family and that’s important to me. My kids are a huge part of my life.”
However she later said that the reporting of her comments was “beneath contempt” and that she expected the newspaper to retract the article and its headline, the Press Association reported.
In a statement, she said: “I am beyond anger and disgust. The reporting of what I said is beneath contempt.
“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.”
She also tweeted:
Speaking outside her home in Northamptonshire, she also said: “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. That is what I believe, and it is what I have always believed.”
The comments in The Times come just days after the Home Secretary spoke about how her and husband Philip were affected by being unable to have children.
Times journalist Rachel Sylvester said on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that she was “baffled” by Leadsom’s reaction.
She said: “I was baffled to be honest by that, I thought, rather aggressive reaction.
“I felt it had been a very fairly written-up interview and it’s for her to explain why she said that but I was baffled by it.”
An audio clip from the interview was played, after which Sylvester was asked about the headline of the article.
She said: “She didn’t use the word ‘edge’ and that’s not in quotes as you say, but she very clearly - I thought - in that clip drew the contrast between her and Theresa May and to be honest, I was surprised that she did that.
“I’m sure she wasn’t trying to be cruel to Theresa May.
“I don’t know, it may be naivety rather than anything malicious but I do think that judgement and character in the next prime minister is an important question and therefore this a legitimate thing to write up.”
A Times spokesperson said: “We stand by our story, and have released the transcript and audio recording of the relevant section.”
The 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 childen will be starting their lives in that next ten years so I have a real stake in the next year, the next two.
Audio from the interview was also released:
The row comes as May called on Leadsom to pledge to join her in conducting a “clean campaign” as the two battle it out for the Tory leadership.
Reaction to interview was heated, with many expressed anger over Leadsom’s comments.
According to the Press Association, Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson said: “I am childless. I have nieces and nephews. I believe I - like everybody else - have a very real stake in our country.”
Tory MP Sir 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.”
Other Tory MPs also tweeted: