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Former leadership contender Rory Stewart walks out on Tories and quits as MP

Mr Stewart has represented Penrith and The Border for nearly 10 years

Tory leadership candidate Rory Stewart at the House of Parliament
Tory leadership candidate Rory Stewart at the House of Parliament

By Sam Blewett, PA Political Correspondent

Former Tory leadership candidate Rory Stewart has said he has quit the Conservative Party and will stand down at the next general election.

The former Cabinet minister was among the 21 rebels who had the whip removed by Boris Johnson when he defied him in the Commons by backing a move designed to block a no-deal Brexit.

The Penrith and The Border MP ran against Mr Johnson in the race to lead his party in June, but on Friday he announced his decision to quit.

“It’s been a great privilege to serve Penrith and The Border for the last ten 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,” he tweeted.

He did not immediately give a detailed explanation for his decision, but he hinted at divisions in politics, and the president of his local Conservative association said the PM’s removal of the whip may have played a role.

Mr Stewart served as international development secretary until his resignation from Government in July, shortly before Mr Johnson took office and undertook his drastic Cabinet reshuffle.

The firm opponent of a no-deal Brexit was among the rebels who voted to take control of the Commons timetable in order to pass legislation aimed at blocking a sudden exit from the EU.

The PM retaliated by ordering the controversial cull, which saw two former chancellors stripped of the Conservative whip.

Amber Rudd, a former Cabinet colleague who resigned from Mr Johnson’s Cabinet and the Tory party last month, said the departure of an “outstanding” MP and minister was a “loss to politics”.

“One of the strongest speakers in Parliament. Principled, patient, thoughtful. I feel certain he’ll be back,” she tweeted.

Mr Stewart wrote in his column in the Cumberland and Westmorland Herald that he will stay involved in politics and continue to reject no-deal.

“Because I have loved the constituency so much, I had considered standing as an independent, but I have decided that I wouldn’t want to run against those Conservative members who have been such wonderful colleagues over the last 10 years,” he said.

“But it should be no secret that there are also local party members who would rather I did not run again. I don’t want to test loyalties, destroy old friendships or push any of these issues any further.

“There is enough toxic division in British politics without importing it into Cumbria!”

Robert Craig, president of the Penrith and The Border Conservative Association, said Mr Stewart would “possibly” not have made the decision if he still had the Tory whip.

“I suppose had that changed… it seems to have become clear that that wasn’t going to change and he has other ambitions,” Mr Craig said.

But he said the MP, who was elected in the constituency in 2010, was moving on to a new venture, which he declined to reveal at this stage.

Mr Craig praised Mr Stewart as an “inspirational” MP who managed to attract a broad church of followers, and criticised Mr Johnson for taking the party in an “extreme” direction.

PA

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