Rory Stewart quits as Tory MP to run to be Independent candidate for London mayoral election

Rory Stewart. Photograph: Stefan Rousseau/PA.

Rory Stewart. Photograph: Stefan Rousseau/PA. - Credit: PA Wire/PA Images

Former Tory leadership candidate Rory Stewart has quit the Conservative Party to run as an independent candidate in the London mayoral 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 Johnson in the race to lead his party in June, but has now announced his decision to quit.

Instead he will run to be mayor of London.

"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.

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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.

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

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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 Johnson'scabinet 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.

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 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," 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.

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

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