Mys­tery of Ste­wart’s past links with MI6

Tory lead­er­ship con­tender de­nies spy­ing as in­trigue sur­rounds his former ca­reer

The Daily Telegraph - - Front page - By Gordon Rayner Po­lit­i­cal Ed­i­tor

RORY STE­WART is fac­ing scru­tiny over his al­leged past as a spy af­ter he de­nied work­ing for MI6 be­fore be­com­ing an MP.

The Tory lead­er­ship con­tender was asked di­rectly at a hus­tings event yes­ter­day whether he had ever spied for the Se­cret In­tel­li­gence Ser­vice, in the wake of mount­ing questions about his pre­vi­ous ca­reer.

A White­hall se­cu­rity source last night told The Daily Tele­graph that Mr Ste­wart had been re­cruited af­ter he left Ox­ford and spent at least seven years as a spy be­fore en­ter­ing Par­lia­ment.

The In­ter­na­tional Devel­op­ment Sec­re­tary has pre­vi­ously failed to is­sue an out­right de­nial and pointed out that MI6 officers are bound by the Of­fi­cial Se­crets Act, so “even if you found some­one who was an in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cer, they wouldn’t tell you they were an in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cer”.

Mr Ste­wart is now the book­mak­ers’ sec­ond-favourite to be­come the next prime min­is­ter af­ter a surge in sup­port fol­low­ing his ap­pear­ance in a tele­vised hus­tings event on Sun­day night.

Yes­ter­day David Lid­ing­ton, the de facto deputy prime min­is­ter, an­nounced he would be back­ing Mr Ste­wart in the sec­ond round of vot­ing among Tory MPS to­day. Theresa May is also re­port­edly back­ing Mr Ste­wart.

Mr Ste­wart dis­closed that he had pledges of sup­port from at least 33 MPS, enough to get through to the third round of vot­ing as long as he does not come last out of the six re­main­ing can­di­dates. He is now seen as a gen­uine con­tender to make it to a head-to-head fight against Boris John­son among the party mem­bers, but there are fears among MPS that hav­ing two old Eto­ni­ans – who even went to the same Ox­ford col­lege – bat­tling it out would dam­age the party’s cred­i­bil­ity.

The claim that Mr Ste­wart has a se­cret past as an of­fi­cer for MI6 adds an el­e­ment of in­trigue to the lead­er­ship contest. The White­hall source said that Mr Ste­wart, a former pri­vate tu­tor to Princes Wil­liam and Harry, was hired by the Se­cret In­tel­li­gence Ser­vice as a “fast track” en­try af­ter he left Ox­ford in the Nineties. The source said Mr Ste­wart was not re­garded as a high flier at MI6 and left af­ter seven years.

Mr Ste­wart, 46, has faced questions for many years about whether he served in MI6, where his father, Brian, was sec­ond in com­mand as its assistant chief from 1974 to 1979.

The claim sur­faced in the New Yorker magazine in 2010, when the journalist Ian Parker wrote that Mr Ste­wart “cer­tainly was” a spy dur­ing his early ca­reer as a di­plo­mat work­ing in In­done­sia and Mon­tene­gro.

The magazine sug­gested it would be “frus­trat­ing” for him if he was “un­der a le­gal and moral obli­ga­tion to mis­lead”. Mr Ste­wart said at the time that it was “an un­fair ques­tion” but is re­ported to have told the journalist he could al­lude to a past in es­pi­onage. Mr Parker wrote: “He later sug­gested phrases that I might use – such as his ca­reer ‘giv­ing the ap­pear­ance of ’ such a path.”

Mr Ste­wart added that peo­ple should have “the very, very clear un­der­stand­ing that I stopped work­ing in em­bassies and for the gov­ern­ment proper in

2000” and that from then on “I was no longer part of the sys­tem”. The magazine also quoted a blog which claimed that Mr Ste­wart was still spy­ing in 2006, when he worked in Afghanista­n run­ning a char­ity that the Prince of Wales helped to found called the Turquoise Moun­tain Foundation.

Asked last week whether he had been a spy, he said he had not, but that: “It’s the Se­cret In­tel­li­gence Ser­vice, bound by the Of­fi­cial Se­crets Act. So even if you found some­one who was an in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cer, they wouldn’t tell you they were an in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cer.”

Mr Ste­wart again de­nied spy­ing when he was asked about it at a hus­tings event yes­ter­day, and his spokesman re­ferred The Tele­graph to his de­nial when informed about the claims of the former MI6 of­fi­cer.

Mr Ste­wart won 19 votes in the first bal­lot of Tory MPS last week, but is now con­fi­dent he can over­take fel­low strag­glers Sa­jid Javid and Do­minic Raab. About seven MPS who pre­vi­ously backed Matt Han­cock are thought to have trans­ferred their al­le­giance to Mr Ste­wart, in­clud­ing Mr Lid­ing­ton, Dame Caro­line Spel­man and Paul Master­ton.

But if Mr John­son and Mr Ste­wart were the fi­nal two can­di­dates who went to a vote of mem­bers, some MPS fear their sim­i­lar back­grounds would play into the hands of Jeremy Cor­byn.

One MP said: “I’m a proud mem­ber of the old Eto­nian trade union but even I think that would be dif­fi­cult.

“We’ve only just re­cov­ered from Dave.”

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