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Rory Stewart says he has no need for stab-proof vest on London walking tour

The ex-Tory has announced he will visit every borough in the capital on foot before standing as an Independent in the 2020 mayoral election.

Rory Stewart intends to stand an Independent in the 2020 London mayoral election (David Mirzoeff/PA)
Rory Stewart intends to stand an Independent in the 2020 London mayoral election (David Mirzoeff/PA)

By Patrick Daly, PA Political Correspondent

Rory Stewart has ruled out wearing a stab proof vest on his pre-election walkaround in London as he prepares to stand for city mayor.

There have been more than a hundred violent killings in London in 2019 alone but the freshly-announced mayoral candidate said he would “not hide” from one of the city’s key issues.

The former Cabinet minister audaciously revealed live on-stage on Friday that he was resigning as a member of the Conservative Party and as an MP and later announced his intention to stand as an Independent candidate in next year’s race to be mayor of London.

Over the coming weeks the 46-year-old intends to emulate his walk across Afghanistan in 2002 – which the ex-diplomat wrote about for a travel book – by touring each borough of London on foot as part of a listening mission before the campaign kicks-off.

The former Tory leadership contender said he had been in more dangerous cities in the past but that the capital was “not as safe as it could be”.

I've worked in Baghdad, I've worked in Kabul. London is not like that Rory Stewart on London's knife crime epidemic

Mr Stewart said he had previously come across a man who had been “stabbed to death” in the east London borough of Tower Hamlets.

But when asked by PA news agency whether he would consider wearing a stab-proof vest to protect himself on his impending walking tour, he said: “No, no, no. I’m somebody who’s worked in cities quite unlike London. I’ve worked in Baghdad, I’ve worked in Kabul. London is not like that.

“But it is also a place which is not as safe as it should be. We really need to make this city safer.

“But the way to make the city safer is not for mayors or mayoral candidates to hide from these situations.

“It’s to get out and meet people and listen and learn from those communities.”

The former prisons minister said he wanted to see more police, both in terms of overall numbers and the amount of officers “on the streets”.

But he said his policies for tackling the rise of street stabbings would be informed by listening to communities ravaged by the blight of knife crime.

As part of his resignation announcement, the senior MP read out extracts of Boris Johnson’s school report detailing the former London mayor’s “gross failure” while at Eton – the exclusive private school that Mr Stewart also attended.

The Remain campaigner has also been highly critical of the Prime Minister’s approach to Brexit, leading to him being sacked as a Tory MP by Mr Johnson last month – along with 20 other colleagues – for voting against a no-deal exit.

But the ex-international development secretary said he could bridge the pair’s differences if he does pull off a shock victory in 2020 to become only the second Independent mayor of London.

Asked whether he could work with Mr Johnson while he was in Number 10, he said: “Absolutely. The one thing we know about him is he has a sense of humour.

“He has criticised me in the past. He has teased me, I’ve teased him back.

“But yes, I will work with anyone – I’m an Independent, I stand as an Independent and I think the city needs an Independent.

“One of the things that’s going wrong is that all these other candidates are carrying the full baggage of their political parties behind them, rather than really just thinking about what London needs, what this job is, how to really make the mayor of London work for this city.”

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Boris Johnson sacked Mr Stewart (Victoria Jones/PA)

Mr Stewart – who voted for Theresa May’s Withdrawal Agreement three times – defended his stance on Brexit and said it was “deeply disruptive” for Remain campaigners to attempt to keep Britain in the European Union.

“I’m afraid that we’re stuck in an endless war,” he said.

“I don’t think it’s realistic anymore for people to think that we can remain in the European Union and I think the attempt to do that is going to be deeply, deeply disruptive.

“I’ve been working very hard to try to bring what people would call a soft Brexit, some way of protecting the City of London, the businesses in London from the impact of Brexit.

“And I think we’re just going have to work out how to compromise.”

Despite serving in a government that wanted to end free movement, Mr Stewart described immigration as “hugely important to London” and “vital for the future of the city”.

The Cumbrian MP said it was the mayor’s responsibility to prepare the city for Brexit, not to be “advocating” for either Remain or Leave.

“Neither I nor you know whether we’re going to have in the end Remain or a hard Brexit or soft Brexit,” he added.

“The job of the mayor of London is to prepare us for all of that – to make sure the city is ready for whatever happens.

“Not to sit up there advocating for a particular result but to prepare for every eventuality to protect the city.”

The bookies quickly put Mr Stewart as the second favourite, behind incumbent Labour Mayor Sadiq Khan, to win in 2020.

If he did so, he would become only the second Independent candidate to be installed at City Hall after Ken Livingstone won in 2000, having been ousted at the time by Labour for standing against the party’s candidate.

PA

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