Stewart: I’m not a spy but 'I served my country'

Tory leadership hopeful has denied he was a spy – but said he could not admit it if he had been.

The International Development Secretary said he had "served my country" but "if somebody asked me whether I was a spy I would say no".

Mr Stewart's colourful CV – which include stints as a soldier, diplomat and an administrator in Iraq – have fuelled speculation that he worked for MI6.

The Daily Telegraph reported that a Whitehall source claimed Mr Stewart spent seven years as a spy before entering Parliament.

But Mr Stewart denied that at a hustings on Monday and repeated his denial on BBC Radio 4's Today programme – but acknowledged it would be an offence to admit to being an agent if he had been.

Asked if former spies could, under the law, answer honestly whether they worked for MI6, he told Today: "No, and in fact the law wouldn't allow newspapers to reveal the identity of intelligence officers."

Presenter Nick Robinson asked: "You can't really answer the question whether you were a spy or not, you can just simply say you served your country?"

Mr Stewart said: "I definitely would say I served my country and if somebody asked me whether I am a spy I would say no."

Mr Stewart later retweeted a comment from Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Tom Tugendhat, who said in response to the Telegraph allegations: "If he did, he risked everything in the shadows defending our nation.

"If he didn't, he risked everything in Iraq trying to build the peace.

"Whoever these Whitehall sources are need to seriously rethink their ethics."

Mr Tugendhat, a former military intelligence officer, suggested that trying to use Mr Stewart "as political capital" could put others at risk.

Mr Stewart served briefly as an infantry officer in the Black Watch before university and then joined the UK diplomatic service, with postings in Jakarta, Indonesia, and as the British representative to Montenegro in the wake of the Kosovo crisis.

He was the coalition deputy-governor of two provinces in southern Iraq following the 2003 invasion.

The Telegraph's Whitehall source said Mr Stewart was hired by the Secret Intelligence Service as a "fast track" entry after he left Oxford University in the 1990s and left after seven years.

His father, Brian Stewart, has been a senior officer with the Secret Intelligence Service.