PM candidate quits parliament to run for London mayor

London (United Kingdom) (AFP) –


A British politician 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 not stand for re-election when a likely early general election rolls around in the coming months.

"It is with sadness that I am announcing that I will be standing down at the next election, and that I have also resigned from the Conservative Party," Stewart wrote.

He added he would be an independent candidate, arguing that the way to a less divisive, kinder politics was not in the "Gothic shouting chamber" of Britain's Westminster parliament.

"I'm getting away from the politics that makes it feel that (US President Donald) Trump has never left London," he added.

"I want to walk through every borough of this great city, to get back to us, on the ground, making change local and showing that the way we do it is not through division but through love."

The 46-year-old 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.

- '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 alleged letter did not paint the often-misbehaving Johnson in a kind light.

Like Johnson, Stewart himself attended Eton and the same college at Oxford University and is anything but an anti-establishment rebel rouser.

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 book "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.

In government, he was a minister for international development and Africa, and also prisons.