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Did Rory Stewart spy for MI6? Intrigue surrounds Tory candidate's past as leadership race intensifies

Rory Stewart speaks to a crowd at the Underbelly Festival on Southbank on June 17
I spy: A security source told The Telegraph that  Rory Stewart spent seven years with MI6 before entering Parliament Credit: Luke Dray/Getty Images

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 on Monday whether he had ever spied for the Secret Intelligence Service, in the wake of mounting questions about his previous career.

A Whitehall security source told The Telegraph that Mr Stewart had been recruited by MI6 after he left Oxford University and spent seven years as a spy before entering Parliament.

The International Development Secretary has pointed out in the past 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 bookies’ second-favourite to become the next prime minister after a surge in support following his appearance in a TV hustings event on Sunday night.

David Lidington, the de facto deputy prime minister, announced he would be backing Mr Stewart in Tuesday's second round of voting among Tory MPs. It follows reports that Theresa May is also backing him.

Mr Stewart disclosed that he has 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, but there are fears among Tory MPs that having two Old Etonians - who even went to the same Oxford college as each other - battling it out would be hugely damaging to the Conservative 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 has told The Telegraph that Mr Stewart, a former private tutor to the young Princes William and Harry, was hired by the Secret Intelligence Service as a “fast track” entry after he left Oxford University in the 1990s. 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 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”.

He said at the time that it was “an unfair question” but is reported to have told the journalist that 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 cites a blog which claimed that Mr Stewart was still spying in 2005, 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 on Monday, and his spokesman referred The Telegraph to his denial when informed about the claims of the former MI6 officer.

A total of 19 Tory MPs, including himself, backed Mr Stewart last week, placing him last among the six remaining contenders, but he is now confident he can overtake fellow stragglers Sajid Javid and Dominic Raab to stay in the race.

Around seven MPs who previously backed Matt Hancock before he dropped out of the contest 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 Tory members, some MPs fear their similar backgrounds would play into the hands of Jeremy Corbyn.

Mr Javid said on Monday: “People don’t want to see an Oxford Union debate. They want to see two candidates who both represent change.”

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

“There will be questions like ‘Do we think it’s right that we have so many people from Eton?’

“I think it would be a problem. We’ve only just recovered from Dave.”

Shake on it: Tory rivals Rory Stewart and Michael Gove in Westminster on Monday Credit:  REUTERS/Henry Nicholls

Mr Johnson’s apparent procession towards the final two continued as three more MPs announced they would be backing him, including the Armed Forces minister Mark Lancaster and Bob Seely, who previously backed Michael Gove.

There was fresh evidence that Mr Gove’s campaign is struggling after he failed to persuade a significant number of MPs who had previously backed Mr Hancock to back him instead.

Last week, sources in Mr Hancock’s camp had suggested “around half” his 20 backers would switch to Mr Gove, but it has since emerged that around 10 - including Mr Hancock himself - will back Mr Johnson, with most of the rest going to Mr Stewart.

A YouGov poll published on Monday showed that 77 per cent of Conservative members think Mr Johnson would make a good leader, compared with just 31 per cent for Mr Stewart.

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