Stewart hits out at no-deal Brexit and Tory leadership rival Johnson

Rory Stewart has launched his Tory leadership bid with strong attacks on a no-deal Brexit and one of his rivals for Downing Street, Boris Johnson.

The International Development Secretary had to clarify remarks he made indicating he could support an opposition Commons move on Wednesday aimed at blocking a no-deal outcome.

Launching his leadership bid at a circus tent on the South Bank in London, Mr Stewart floated the idea of a “Brexit Assembly” of citizens to break the parliamentary deadlock on EU withdrawal.

He accused advocates of a no-deal exit of telling “fairy stories”.


Asked about a cross-party bid to block a no-deal Brexit and prevent prorogation of Parliament, Mr Stewart said: “I am entirely against no-deal. I am entirely against prorogation.

“I haven’t read the details of this. My instinct is I would be wholly supportive of a move that tried to do that.”

Soon after the event, Mr Stewart tweeted he would not back the Labour move.

He said: “For the avoidance of any doubt – I have read the Labour motion proposed for tomorrow and I will not be voting for it.”

Mr Stewart appeared to question whether Mr Johnson as PM would the right person to give orders to the commanders of Britain’s nuclear strike force.

Ken Clarke at Rory Stewart's leadership launch
Ken Clarke at Rory Stewart's leadership launch

Asked about Mr Johnson, Mr Stewart said he had spoken to Conservative Party associations across the UK.

He added: “When you ask them, do you really – and I don’t want to make this too personal – do you really feel that this is the person that you want engaging with the detail and the future of your health and education system?

“Is this the person that you want writing the instructions to the nuclear submarines?

“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?

“I trust the Conservative members to arrive at the correct answers.”

Mr Stewart attacked leadership rivals advocating a no-deal Brexit, accusing them of peddling “fairy stories”.

He said: “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.

“Underlying all these stories that the other candidates are putting forward that masquerade as optimism is a failure – a failure to grasp reality. What they are giving you is fairy stories.

“The way that you change that world is being honest to the way the world is.”

Mr Stewart said the “threat of a Brexit Assembly” could be held over MPs if they failed to agree on EU withdrawal.

He said the move would see “a grand jury of citizens” sit for three weeks to try to work out a way forward.

Steve Bray filming Rory Stewart at the launch
Steve Bray filming Rory Stewart at the launch

Anti-Brexit campaigner Steve Bray was among the audience at the launch and publicly challenged Mr Stewart to revoke Article 50 and end EU withdrawal.

Mr Bray has drawn attention for standing in the background of news reports carrying banners condemning Brexit.