Allies of Theresa May have questioned Andrea Leadsom’s suitability to be prime minister after the Tory leadership candidate appeared to suggest that being a mother gave her an advantage over her childless rival.
Mrs Leadsom said she was “disgusted” by the way her comments had been presented and insisted that she believed “everyone has an equal stake in our society”, stressing that she did not want the issue of children to be a feature of the campaign.
In an interview with The Times, Mrs Leadsom said: “Genuinely I feel that being a mum means you have a very real stake in the future of our country, a tangible stake.”
The Home Secretary has previously spoken about how she and husband Philip were affected by being unable to have children.
Business minister Anna Soubry said Mrs Leadsom’s comments meant she was “not PM material” while Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson said there was a “gulf in class” between the two candidates and senior MP Sir Alan Duncan said the energy minister’s remarks were “vile”.
In a statement outside her constituency home in Northamptonshire, Mrs Leadsom said: “I want to make a short statement about the front page of The Times today.
“Over the course of a lengthy interview I was repeatedly asked about my children and I repeatedly made it clear that I did not want this to be 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 the future of our country. That is what I believe and it is what I have always believed.
“I have repeated my instructions to my campaign team that this campaign must at all times be principled and honourable.”
A transcript of the interview released by the newspaper following Mrs Leadsom’s complaints showed the energy minister 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 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.”
David Cameron refused to be drawn on Mrs Leadsom’s comments, stressing that he would not get involved in the contest to replace him as Tory leader and prime minister.