20 Tory MPs could quit if Andrea Leadsom wins but supporters say she is a victim of a 'black ops' smear campaign

Tory leadership contender Andrea Leadsom, issues a statement outside her home in Northamptonshire, after a newspaper suggested she was using her status as a mother to gain an advantage over Theresa May.Chris Radburn / PA Wire/Press Association ImagesLeadsom issuing a statement outside her home in Northamptonshire following the Times article on Saturday.

As many as 20 Tory MPs are prepared to quit if Andrea Leadsom wins the Conservative Party leadership contest, according to reports.

The Sunday Times reports that MPs including education secretary Nicky Morgan are willing to “jump ship” if Leadsom wins, following an interview she gave to Saturday’s Times in which she suggested having kids gave her an advantage over childless Tory leadership rival Theresa May.

Anna Soubry, the business minister, told the Sunday Times that Leadsom’s comments prove she “is not PM material” and called for her to “do us all a favour, including herself, and step aside.”

Leadsom, who’s most senior government experience is a junior ministerial role, is in the final two to replace David Cameron as leader of the Tory Party and Prime Minister. She is up against current Home Secretary Theresa May in a ballot of Conservative Party members across the country. May is the favourite among MPs.

Here are the comments from Leadsom that have angered many in the party:

“So really carefully because I am sure, I don’t really know Theresa very well but I am sure she will be really 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.”

Leadsom, who has two sons and a daughter, tweeted that she was “disgusted” with the way the Times presented the interview, adding that it’s “the exact opposite” of what she said.

Leadsom’s supporters have come out in her defence. Iain Duncan Smith told ITV’s Peston on Sunday he feels there has been “a real black ops operation to denigrate her reputation.”

Sky News reports that armed forces minister Penny Mordaunt also attacked The Times report as an attempt to “smear” Leadsom. And Leadsom’s campaign manager told The Andrew Marr Show on Sunday that the article was “the establishment trying to get Andrea.”

He said: “What she is saying she is passionate about her kids. Since when has it been a crime to be proud about your children?”

Some Leadsom supporters are privately calling for her to apologise for her comments, according to the Guardian.

Employment minister Priti Patel warns in an interview with The Sunday Telegraph that Leadsom could find herself in a similar situation to Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, with broad support among electorate but lacking the support of MPs needed to govern.

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