The Telegraph has learned from a Whitehall security source that Tory leadership contender Rory Stewart spent seven years working for MI6 prior to embarking upon a career in parliament.
The source told The Telegraph that Stewart, a former private tutor to the young Princes William and Harry, was recruited as an Oxford graduate in the 1990s and was not regarded as a “high flier” at MI6.
At a meet-the-candidates event on Monday, International Development Secretary Rory Stewart denied that he had ever spied for MI6.
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”.
Stewart, 46, has had to fend off questions regarding whether he worked for MI6 for years. His father Brian was second in command at the organisation as its Assistant Chief from 1974 to 1979.
Initially, the claim surfaced in the New Yorker magazine in 2010, when journalist Ian Parker wrote that Stewart “certainly was” a spy when he was working in Indonesia and Montenegro at the start of his diplomatic career.
The magazine suggested it would be “frustrating” for him if he was “under a legal and moral obligation to mislead”.
At the time Stewart called it “an unfair question” but is reported to have told the journalist that he could allude to a past in espionage.
Stewart, 46, 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.”
According to the magazine, a blog claimed that in 2005, when Stewart worked in Afghanistan for the Turquoise Mountain Foundation charity that the Prince of Wales helped found, he was still a spy.
Stewart is currently riding a surge of support after his appearance in a TV meet-the-press event on Sunday night and is reportedly being placed second-favourite to become the next prime minister as a genuine contender to reach a head-to-head against Boris Johnson.
After reports that Theresa May is backing Stewart, David Lidington, the de facto deputy prime minister, also announced he would be throwing his weight behind the candidate in Tuesday's second round of voting among Tory MPs.
Stewart has disclosed that he has garnered pledges of support from at least 33 MPs. The number should be enough to take him to the third round of voting, providing he is not placed last among the six remaining candidates.
A total of 19 Tory MPs backed Stewart last week, placing him last among the six remaining contenders, but he is reportedly confident of being able to overtake Sajid Javid and Dominic Raab to stay in the race.
However, if Boris Johnson and Rory Stewart are the final two candidates, some MPs fear their similar Etonian backgrounds might put Jeremy Corbyn in the winning position.
Home secretary Sajid Javid said on Monday:
“People don’t want to see an Oxford Union debate. They want to see two candidates who both represent change.”
Last week, the UK Conservative Party held the first round of the party leadership election. Johnson won the election with 114 votes, incumbent Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt came second with 43 votes, while Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Michael Gove was third with 37 votes. Hancock gained only 20 votes and after that decided to leave the race.