International Development Secretary Rory Stewart delivered criticism against a no-deal Brexit and hit out at the front-runner in the Tory Party leadership battle, Boris Johnson, while launching his leadership bid inside a circus tent on the South Bank in the British capital.
He lambasted Johnson on several occasions, comparing him to an elephant in a circus as well as addressing his controversial stance on a no-deal Brexit. “That great prancing elephant in the room is this big circus tent ... and I’m speaking not about the leading leadership contender here.”
Johnson, who kicked off his reelection campaign today, has a contentious legacy as mayor of London and foreign secretary. He has been a staunch proponent of Brexit, campaigning for the leave vote in 2016 and resinging over Theresa May's much-opposed 'Chequers' agreement.
Conversely, Rory Stewart supported Remain and has since been a prominent advocate for the "withdrawal agreement" secured by Theresa May, which Boris Johnson opposed until finally joining the ranks of those who voted the bill.
Stewart also accused Johnson of being untrustworthy to command Britain's nuclear arsenal.
Claiming to have heard the opinions of Conservative Party associations across the country, he lambasted Johnson’s ability to effectively oversee "the future of your health and education system" and questioned whether he could appropriately "embody the nation".
"Is this the person that you want embodying the nation on the world stage and guiding you through the most difficult choice that Britain has faced for 50 years?"
Stewart attacked fellow leadership contenders for promoting “fairy stories” related to Brexit and stressed the need for MPs to find an alternative.
"It is not just no to a deal. It is no to everything. It is no to Europe, it is no to trade, it is no to parliament, it is no to reality. We are not a 'no' country,” he said.
He pledged to travel to every single county of the UK – “listening and walking” with average voters.
Addressing the need to improve prisons and the social care system, the former prison minister said that government policies should "begin from a sense of shame."
An avid Remainer, Stewart has won the appreciation of anti-Brexiteers, citing his electoral prospects in a potential clash against the Labour Party.
For good or ill, Rory Stewart would absolutely annihilate Jeremy Corbyn in a general election.— James O'Brien (@mrjamesob) June 11, 2019
Supporters called the launch electrifying and praised Stewart for his “moderate” policies.
.@RoryStewartUK electrified this tent. He delivered the most coherent and lyrical launch speech of any candidate. On this showing the Tories have found a proper star. But they will reject him, because his “moderate” views are out of touch with his party. Labour will be relieved— Robert Peston (@Peston) June 11, 2019
The Conservatives cannot ignore the voice of true centrist conservatism that is @RoryStewartUK The haters can hate, but he is the voice of the many.If we ignore the man and his message and drift towards the rhetoric of the populists we risk a long period out of power.— Kevin Beaty (@kevcow) June 11, 2019
Despite appearing as the “soft-Brexit” candidate, he later declared that he would not be voting for Labour’s motion to rule out a no-deal Brexit. Some reacted by accusing the international development secretary of putting “party before country”.
For the avoidance of any doubt - I have read the Labour motion proposed for tomorrow and I will NOT be voting for it.— Rory Stewart (@RoryStewartUK) June 11, 2019
For the avoidance of any doubt - Rory Stewart just put the Tory party before the country.*— Matt Thomas #JC4PM (@Trickyjabs) June 11, 2019
* There are no Tory rebels. https://t.co/152U6RpoA6
Critics accused Stewart of offering no significant change beyond a continuation of Theresa May's premiership and advocating parliament vote for her, thrice defeated, withdrawal agreement.
So Rory Stewart's plan for Brexit is to convince MPs to vote for Theresa May's deal?— Omar Baggili (@OmarBaggili) June 11, 2019
that @RoryStewartUK campaign launch speech actually sounded like sensible conservatism. he’s probably too moderate and not spouting enough melodramatic nonsense to win over the current Tory party though— Rou Reyno (@RouReynolds) June 11, 2019
The vacuity of the @RoryStewartUK leadership bid mirrors the anti-politics of Change UK & the British media.— Aaron Bastani (@AaronBastani) June 11, 2019
The next several decades will see multiple crises: the continued breakdown of our economic model; demographic ageing; climate change.
On these titanic issues...nothing.
The last time the liberal commentariat had a crush on a politician like they have now for Rory Stewart was for a man called Chuka Umunna.— Tom London (@TomLondon6) June 12, 2019
Out of touch..,
“Stop Brexit” activist Steve Bray, who was present in the audience, demanded that Stewart revoke Article 50 and prevent Britain's EU withdrawal entirely. "Never forget Rory, revoke Article 50! This mess started with the Conservatives - it has to end with the Conservatives. Stop Brexit!" Bray told the leadership candidate.
Shedding his familial connections to MI6, Stewart has brought himself into the public eye through an eccentric online-based electoral campaign. Filming himself walking around the country, engaging with regular people on a personal level, gathering the public together for meet and greets in parks, and receiving thousands of small donations and support from MPs for offering a more centrist option.
Since the EU referendum in 2016, the Brexit issue has seen off two prime ministers. Theresa May succeeded David Cameron following the Remain campaign's defeat. In an attempt to secure a majority for her Brexit deal, May called a snap election and lost her party's majority, ultimately leading to her resignation in June of this year.
There are 9 others named on the final list of candidates in the race to succeed Theresa May. The next PM will be chosen by Conservative MPs who will partake in votes to shave off candidates until only two remain, followed by a vote from the wider membership who will decide the new leader of the Conservative Party, and of the United Kingdom.