LONDON • One of the two candidates to lead Britain is facing a backlash after apparently suggesting that her rival is less well-placed to do the job because she is not a mother.
Mrs Andrea Leadsom reportedly made the comments to The Times newspaper yesterday after Mrs Theresa May spoke, in an interview earlier last week, of how she and her husband were unable to have children.
In an exclusive interview with The Telegraph, Mrs May said she hoped voters would not judge her for her inability to have children. "I hope nobody would think that mattered. I can still empathise, understand people and care about fairness and opportunity," Mrs May told the newspaper.
The two women are battling it out to replace Mr David Cameron as Conservative prime minister and party leader after he resigned following the vote to leave the European Union. The winner will be announced on Sept 9.
Conservative Party members will vote to decide whether Mrs May, who is ahead in polls, or Mrs Leadsom will become the second woman ever to lead Britain after Margaret Thatcher, who stepped down in 1990.
Genuinely, I feel that being a mum means you have a very real stake in the future of our country, a tangible stake.
MRS ANDREA LEADSOM
In the interview published yesterday, Mrs Leadsom, who is married with two sons and a daughter, was quoted as saying that her opponent "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," she added.
According to the Times, Mrs Leadsom also said: "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 was also quoted as saying: "Genuinely, I feel that being a mum means you have a very real stake in the future of our country, a tangible stake."
The paper headlined its front- page lead story "Being a mother gives me edge on May - Leadsom".
After the comments were published, an angry Mrs Leadsom tweeted a link to the story, saying: "Truly appalling and the exact opposite of what I said. I am disgusted."
The BBC said Ms Leadsom issued another statement later in which she said she was "beyond anger and disgust" at the newspaper's front page. "The reporting of what I said is beneath contempt," she said.
"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."
The Times has not officially responded to Mrs Leadsom, but the newspaper's deputy editor Emma Tucker tweeted what she said was a transcript from a section of the interview, according to the BBC.
Mrs Leadsom's alleged comments triggered "opprobrium" across party lines, the Financial Times said.
It said Labour Party deputy leader Tom Watson tweeted: "No matter what trouble my party is in, this is disgusting. Leadsom should not be our prime minister."
Conservative MP David Gauke, who is backing Mrs May, wrote on Twitter: "I'd like to think this is a case of verbal clumsiness not calculation. If the latter, yuk... Either way, an apology is due."
A former senior adviser to Mr Cameron, Mr Andrew Cooper, added: "Theresa May told Tories in 2002 they were (a) 'nasty party'. David Cameron spent 11 yrs trying to fix it. Andrea Leadsom = nasty party again."
The comments were published as Mrs May issued a statement making a "clean campaign pledge" and urging Mrs Leadsom to do the same.
This included promising to ensure that campaigning remains "within the acceptable limits of political debate".