London: A pro-European British minister who took Twitter by storm with walking tours and viral clips during his leadership challenge against Boris Johnson said Friday he was quitting parliament to run for London mayor.
Rory Stewart used the social media platform to announce that he would give up his seat in what he called the “Gothic shouting chamber” of the House of Commons when a likely early general election rolls around in the coming months.
“I have also resigned from the Conservative Party,” said Stewart.
“I’m getting away from the politics that makes it feel that (US President Donald) Trump has never left London,” he said in a video clip.
The softly spoken 46-year-old will run as an independent against incumbent mayor Sadiq Khan — a pro-business member of the Labour Party — and anti-crime Conservative Shaun Bailey in polls set for May 2020.
Stewart turned into an unlikely social media star by ignoring UK conventions and challenging just about every passerby he met to debate him about Britain’s place in the world.
He feared Johnson’s threats to take the country out of the EU without a negotiated agreement and voted against Brexit in the 2016 EU referendum.
Stewart would record the conversations on his mobile phone — he later admitted that an assistant helped him out — and then post them from various spots around the country.
The #WhereisRory hashtag soon went viral and Stewart survived round after round of party votes to qualify for TV debates against grandees like Johnson and now-foreign minister Dominic Raab.
But he appeared to melt under the pressure on stage and his campaign ended in June.
Johnson rose to power the following month and soon stripped Stewart and 20 other rebel Conservative MPs of their parliamentary party rights for opposing his “no-deal Brexit” threat.
Stewart had by that point given up his post as junior minister who oversaw prison reforms and focused on Africa as part of his international development brief.
- ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ –
The Guardian reported that Stewart first made the announcement “in front of an audience of thousands” Thursday at an event at which he read out a letter about Johnson allegedly written by his headmaster at the elite Eton boys school.
The letter did not paint the often-misbehaving Johnson in a kind light.
Stewart followed Johnson’s footsteps at Eton and the very same college at Oxford University and is anything but a rebel rouser himself.
He told The New Yorker magazine in 2010 how Prince Charles once asked him to tutor his sons William and Harry.
He developed “The Lawrence of Arabia” moniker from a book he wrote about his walk across Afghanistan “with only a toothless mastiff for company” in 2002.
The experience was recounted in a 2004 tome called “The Places In Between”.
He was appointed a deputy governor in southern Iraq after the US-led 2003 invasion and had previously served as Britain’s representative in Montenegro after the 1999 Kosovo war.
Stewart has also worked in the UK embassy in Indonesia and run a charity in Afghanistan.
All this has led to speculation that Stewart — like his father — was a member of the MI6 foreign intelligence service. He denies it.