Former leadership candidate announces plan to stand down as MP at next election
The former Conservative leadership candidate Rory Stewart has resigned from the party, and announced plans to run for mayor of London as an independent.
Stewart, who was among 21 Tories who lost the whip for rebelling over a no-deal Brexit, announced in a tweet on Friday that he would stand down as an MP. He later told the Evening Standard newspaper he was sick of the “madhouse of mutual insults in the Gothic shouting chamber of Westminster”.
Stewart effectively announced his departure as an MP in front of an audience of thousands on Thursday night, during an event at the Royal Albert Hall in London where actors and others read famous letters to the audience.
Coming on stage to read a letter from Eton about the then-schoolboy Boris Johnson, sent to his father, Stanley, Stewart began: “This letter constitutes my resignation from the Conservative party.”
While it was not immediately clear if his comments should be taken seriously, on Friday morning Stewart tweeted: “It’s been a great privilege to serve Penrith and the Border for the last 10 years, so it is with sadness that I am announcing that I will be standing down at the next election, and that I have also resigned from the Conservative party.”
In a column for his local newspaper, the Cumberland and Westmorland Herald, Stewart said he would stay involved in politics, albeit outside parliament. He has been linked to rumours about potentially forming a new centrist grouping.
Stewart wrote that he had considered standing as an independent but had “decided that I wouldn’t want to run against those Conservative members who have been such wonderful colleagues over the last 10 years”.
“As for the future – I am a public servant to my core and will stay involved in politics, endeavouring to make my voice heard. I will, of course, continue to explain why I voted for a Brexit deal, while rejecting a no-deal Brexit.
“But ultimately I want to move beyond Brexit, and focus on getting things done on the ground. I think our great parties are now in danger of coming apart, and our great parliament is becoming increasingly diminished. I want to show how much difference can still be made outside parliament. So I hope to start work in another part of the country.”
Stewart’s former colleague Amber Rudd, who recently quit the cabinet and resigned the Conservative whip, tweeted: “What a loss to politics. An outstanding MP and minister. One of the strongest speakers in parliament. Principled, patient, thoughtful. I feel certain he’ll be back.”
Robert Craig, the president of Stewart’s local Conservative association in Penrith and the Border, praised the MP and criticised Johnson for taking the party in an “extreme” direction.
Craig told PA Media: “He was really popular and a great, inspirational MP, who appealed to a lot of people who wouldn’t have got involved in the Conservative party locally. In itself it is really sad because quite a lot of us are really quite fed up with where this situation has got now.”
At the Letters Live event, Stewart read extracts from a 1982 letter to Johnson’s father, Stanley, from his teacher Martin Hammond. “Boris really has adopted a disgracefully cavalier attitude to his classical studies,” the letter begins.
Appearing on a bill that also featured the actors Olivia Colman, Jude Law and Benedict Cumberbatch, Stewart read: “Boris sometimes seems affronted when criticised for what amounts to a gross failure of responsibility … I think he honestly believes that it is churlish of us not to regard him as an exception, one who should be free of the network of obligation which binds everyone else.”
Stewart, a former cabinet minister, made an outsider run for the party leadership against Johnson earlier this year that ultimately fell well short of success but catapulted him to public prominence.
He had already hinted he might leave the party in the weeks since he lost the whip, as a result of rebelling against the government to oppose a no-deal Brexit in a crucial House of Commons vote.While that step pushed him and others, including Philip Hammond and Ken Clarke, out of the parliamentary grouping and seemed likely to mean their future deselection as Conservative candidates, it did not mean they were automatically kicked out of the national party.
Speaking at the GQ Awards in September, Stewart said: “You’ve made me politician of the year and I’m no longer a politician.”
At a philosophy and music festival, he told the audience that if Johnson succeeded in taking the UK out of the EU this month he would resign.
“It would be the end of my political project.”