Mystery of Stewart’s past links with MI6
Tory leadership contender denies spying as intrigue surrounds his former career
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.”