Andrea Leadsom, one of two candidates vying to become the next British prime minister, has caused an uproar by suggesting that being a mother means she has a greater stake in the country's future than her childless rival Theresa May.
A little-known junior energy minister until she emerged as one of the most ardent voices in the campaign to leave the European Union, Ms Leadsom is the outsider in the contest to succeed David Cameron as Conservative leader and prime minister.
Mr Cameron, who had campaigned for Britain to stay in the bloc, announced he would quit after the June 23 referendum delivered a vote for Brexit. Ms May, the interior minister who also advocated remaining in the EU, is the favourite to replace him.
"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," Ms Leadsom, a devout Christian, told the Times newspaper.
"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."
The comments were denounced by many Conservative MPs and Ms May supporters, who used words like "vile", "divisive", "insulting" and "embarrassing" to describe them.
Among them was Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond, who said the leadership contest should not descend into "a slanging match" but focus on substantive issues.
"What makes you qualified to be prime minister is having long experience of the issues facing this country. That is why I am backing Theresa May," he said.
Ms Leadsom fought back, denouncing the Times article on Twitter as "gutter journalism" and saying in a televised statement: "I want to be crystal clear that everyone has an equal stake in our society and in the future of our country."
The Times, which backs Ms May, stood by its story and released a recording of Ms Leadsom making the comments, which was played on Saturday news bulletins on all the main radio and TV stations.
The Sunday Times, the Times's sister paper, said late on Saturday it had learnt that "as many as 20" Conservative MPs were prepared to leave the party if Ms Leadsom became leader - potentially depriving her of a majority in parliament.
Ms May made no comment on Ms Leadsom's interview, merely tweeting: "Yesterday, I launched my clean campaign pledge and invite @AndreaLeadsom to join me in signing it."