Rory Stewart

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Rory Stewart

Rory Stewart MP (cropped).jpg
Secretary of State for International Development
Assumed office
1 May 2019
Prime MinisterTheresa May
Preceded byPenny Mordaunt
Minister of State for Prisons
In office
9 January 2018 – 1 May 2019
Prime MinisterTheresa May
Preceded bySam Gyimah
Succeeded byRobert Buckland
Minister of State for Africa
In office
15 June 2017 – 9 January 2018
Prime MinisterTheresa May
Preceded byTobias Ellwood
Succeeded byHarriett Baldwin
Minister of State for International Development
In office
17 July 2016 – 9 January 2018
Prime MinisterTheresa May
Preceded byDesmond Swayne
Succeeded byHarriett Baldwin
Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
In office
12 May 2015 – 17 July 2016
Prime MinisterDavid Cameron
Preceded byDan Rogerson
Succeeded byThérèse Coffey
Chair of the Defence Select Committee
In office
14 May 2014 – 12 May 2015
Preceded byJames Arbuthnot
Succeeded byJulian Lewis
Member of Parliament
for Penrith and The Border
Assumed office
6 May 2010
Preceded byDavid Maclean
Majority15,910 (34.2%)
Personal details
Roderick James Nugent Stewart

(1973-01-03) 3 January 1973 (age 46)
British Hong Kong
Political partyConservative
Spouse(s)Shoshana Clark
FatherBrian Stewart
EducationEton College
Alma materBalliol College, Oxford Edit this at Wikidata

Roderick James NugentRoryStewart OBE FRSL FRSGS MP (born 3 January 1973) is a British politician serving as Secretary of State for International Development since 2019. A member of the Conservative Party, he has been the Member of Parliament (MP) for Penrith and The Border since 2010.[1][2]

After having chaired the Defence Select Committee from 14 May 2014 to 12 May 2015, he served in the Cameron Government as Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs until 17 July 2016 and in the May Government as Minister of State at the Department for International Development (2016–2018) and Minister of State for Africa at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (2017–2018).[3] Following the 2018 cabinet reshuffle, Stewart was appointed Minister of State at the Ministry of Justice. On 1 May 2019, he succeeded Penny Mordaunt as International Development Secretary. Stewart was a candidate for Leader of the Conservative Party in the 2019 leadership contest.

Stewart was a coalition official in Iraq in 2003–2004.[4] He is known for his book about this experience, Occupational Hazards or The Prince of the Marshes, as well as for his 2002 walk across Afghanistan (part of a larger walk across Iran, Pakistan, India and Nepal),[5] which served as the basis for his bestseller, The Places in Between. He later worked in cultural development in Afghanistan as executive chairman of the British charity Turquoise Mountain Foundation.[6]

Early life[edit]

Stewart's father, Brian Stewart, in 1953

Stewart was born in Hong Kong, the son of Brian Stewart and his wife Sally Elizabeth Acland Nugent. Stewart's father was a colonial official and diplomat who, in the 1970s, was a candidate to become the director of the British Secret Intelligence Service, also known as MI6.[7]

His family seat is Broich House, near Crieff in Perth and Kinross, Scotland.[8] A Category B listed building, the house was built in 1770.[9] He was brought up in Malaysia and in Scotland and educated at the Dragon School in Oxford, and at Eton College.[4]

As a teenager, he was a member of the Labour Party[10] and he has spoken about this in a number of interviews, including on BBC Radio 4's Political Thinking with Nick Robinson.[11] During his gap year in 1991, he was commissioned ("short service limited commission") in the Black Watch for five months as second lieutenant (on probation).[12][13] He then attended Balliol College, Oxford University, where he read Modern History for one year, before switching to Philosophy, Politics and Economics.[4] While a student at Oxford, Stewart was a private tutor to Prince William and Prince Harry during the summer.[14]

Foreign Office[edit]

After graduating, Stewart joined the Foreign Office.[15] He served in the British embassy in Indonesia from 1997 to 1999, working on issues related to East Timor independence, and was appointed at the age of 26 as the British Representative to Montenegro in the wake of the Kosovo campaign.[14] Some have suggested that Stewart was an employee of the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) at this time.[16][17] Stewart has said that his career progression and his father's work for MI6 might "give the appearance" that he worked for MI6,[18] but says he did not work for MI6 while a diplomat.[17]

Coalition Provisional Authority[edit]

After the 2003 invasion of Iraq, Stewart became the Coalition Provisional Authority Deputy Governorate Co-Ordinator in Maysan and Deputy Governorate Co-ordinator/Senior Advisor in Dhi Qar in 2003, both of which are provinces in southern Iraq.[14] He was posted initially to the KOSB Battlegroup then to the Light Infantry.[19] His responsibilities included holding elections, resolving tribal disputes, and implementing development projects.[19] He faced growing unrest and an incipient civil war from his base in a Civil-Military Co-operation (CIMIC) compound in Al Amarah, and in May 2004 was in command of his compound in Nasiriyah when it was besieged by Sadrist militia.[14] He was awarded an OBE for his services during this period.[20]

While Stewart initially supported the Iraq War, the international coalition's inability to achieve a more humane, prosperous state led him in retrospect to believe the invasion had been a mistake.[21]

Turquoise Mountain[edit]

In late 2005 he joined the Turquoise Mountain Foundation, a human development NGO established by Charles, Prince of Wales, and Hamid Karzai, in Afghanistan.[22] For this role he relocated to Kabul for the next three years, working to restore historic buildings in the old city of Kabul, managing its finances, installing water supply, electricity, and establishing a clinic, a school and an institute for traditional crafts.[4] Stewart was awarded the Royal Scottish Geographical Society's Livingstone medal in 2009 "in recognition of his work in Afghanistan and his travel writing, and for his distinguished contribution to geography".[23] Stewart stepped down as executive chairman of the Turquoise Mountain Foundation in May 2010.[24]

Academic, nonprofit, and advisory work[edit]

In late 2004, Stewart became a fellow at the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government, and in July 2008, he was appointed Ryan Family Professor of Human Rights at Harvard and director of the Carr Center.[4] Stewart left his position at Harvard in 2010 in order to campaign for Parliament.[25] W.W. Norton published his book Can Intervention Work? in 2011.[26] Stewart has frequently been called on to provide advice on Afghanistan and Iraq to policy-makers, particularly in the United States, United Kingdom, and Canada.[4] In an article in The Daily Telegraph he was described an advisor on Afghan issues to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the U.S. Special Envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke.[27]

Stewart served for a time on the board of governors of the International Development Research Centre of Canada.[28]


Member of Parliament for Penrith and The Border[edit]

Stewart had considered a parliamentary career in the past but only decided to stand when, in the aftermath of the expenses scandal, David Cameron decided to "reopen the Conservative candidates' list to anybody who wants to apply". Stewart tried for selection for the Bracknell constituency in the 2010 general election,[29] but the place went to Dr Phillip Lee.[30] Stewart was then shortlisted for the Penrith and the Border constituency and, at an open caucus, selected as the Conservative Party Candidate on 25 October 2009.[31] He was returned as the MP for the constituency on 6 May 2010.[32] At the 2015 general election, Stewart almost doubled his majority in Penrith and the Border from 11,241 to 19,894, the highest majority since the seat was created.[33] In the 2017 general election, he received 60.4% of the vote.

Upon joining the House of Commons, Stewart was elected a member of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, serving until 2014. In this capacity, he made a notable contribution to the committee's report on Afghanistan.[34] Stewart also served as the chairman of the APPG for Mountain Rescue[35][36] and the APPG for Local Democracy[37][38] and was an officer of the APPG for Rural Services.[39] He was elected Chairman of the Defence Select Committee in May 2014. He left these positions upon his appointment as Minister for the Environment.

On 25 July 2010, Stewart apologised to his constituents after blogging about the relative poverty of rural areas and need for more public services.[40] He was quoted in the Scottish Sun as saying that "Some areas around here are pretty primitive, people holding up their trousers with bits of twine."[40] A light-hearted Guardian article, "In praise of ... binder twine", whilst acknowledging the "serious effort" Stewart had made "walking hundreds of miles" to get to know his constituency believed he had simply underestimated the importance of the "ubiquitous and indispensable" twine to the rural community.[41]

His speech about hedgehogs in Parliament in 2015[42] was named by The Times and The Daily Telegraph as the best parliamentary speech of 2015 and described by the Deputy Speaker as "one of the best speeches [she] had ever heard in Parliament".[43][44]

Stewart supported Remain in the 2016 referendum on the UK's continued membership of the European Union[45] but fully accepted the result, writing that "the decision is made, and we should be energetic and optimistic [about it]".[46] Stewart has emerged as a prominent supporter of the Brexit withdrawal agreement negotiated by Prime Minister Theresa May,[47][48][49] arguing that the agreement respects the result of the referendum "by leaving EU political institutions...and by taking back control over immigration" while also addressing "the concerns of the more than 16 million who voted Remain" and protecting the British economy.[50]

Stewart led the first backbench motion for expanding broadband and mobile coverage, securing what was then the largest number of cross-party endorsements for a backbench motion.[51] In a report published in 2011, Stewart won support from the House of Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee in calling for mobile phone companies to be forced to provide coverage to 98% of the population,[52] and in 2012, his campaign achieved its goal when regulator Ofcom announced its plans for the auction of fourth generation (4G) bandwidth for mobile phone services.[53] In March 2018, Ofcom announced that the 98% target had been met.[54]

Stewart was successful in securing the Cumbrian broadband pilot in 2011,[55] and in November 2013, broadband provider EE cited the support of Government and regulatory policy in announcing that over 2,000 residents and businesses in rural Cumbria were to have access to superfast home and office broadband for the first time.[56] In February 2015 Stewart secured more funding in order to continue the broadband roll-out in Cumbria.[57]

Hands Across The Border[edit]

In July 2014 Stewart launched Hands Across The Border, a project to construct a cairn called 'The Auld Acquaintance' as "a testament to the Union".[58] Built by members of the public it is close to the Scotland–England border near Gretna. During the run up to the Scottish independence referendum.[59] Stewart said of the project: "We wanted to come up with a lasting marker of our union, something that future generations will look back at and remember, with deep gratitude, the moment we chose to stay together."[60] The campaign received support from several notable public figures in the UK, including actress Joanna Lumley, explorer Sir Ranulph Fiennes, mountaineers Alan Hinkes and Doug Scott, and historians Simon Schama and David Starkey.[61] Approximately 100,000 stones were laid on the cairn, many with personal messages.

At the same time, Stewart hosted a two-part documentary on BBC Two about the cross-border history of what he called "Britain's lost middleland",[62] covering the kingdoms of Northumbria and Strathclyde and the Debatable Lands of the Scottish Marches on the Anglo-Scottish border.[62]

Veterans in the justice system[edit]

In January 2014, Stewart was asked by Chris Grayling, Secretary of State for Justice, to lead a Government review into the reasons why a number of British veterans become criminal offenders after returning to civilian life.[63] The review looked at ways in which support and prevention for veterans in the justice system can be improved.[64] Following his election to Chairman of the Defence Select Committee, Stewart handed over the lead for the review to Stephen Phillips QC MP.[65]

Defence Select Committee[edit]

In May 2014, Stewart was elected by MPs from all parties as Chairman of the Defence Select Committee. He was the youngest Chair of a select committee in parliamentary history, as well as the first MP of the 2010 intake to be elected to chair a committee. [66] [67][68] In this capacity, Stewart argued strongly for a more vigorous response to Russian aggression in Ukraine.[69] The committee also argued that Britain's commitments to Iraq and Syria were "strikingly modest" and that more should be done.[70] Under Stewart's chairmanship, the committee produced a report in favour of the proposals for a Services Complaint Ombudsman and also secured an amendment extending the powers of the Ombudsman.[71]

Minister for the Environment[edit]

Stewart pictured with the Greek politician Nikos Xydakis in September 2016

Following the Conservatives' return with an outright majority at the 2015 UK General Election, Stewart was appointed Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA), with responsibilities including the natural environment, national parks, floods and water, resource and environmental management, rural affairs, lead responsibility for the Environment Agency, Natural England and the Forestry Commission, and acting as the Secretary of State's deputy on the Environment Council.[72]

In July 2015, in his capacity as Resource Minister, he announced a review into the regulatory and enforcement barriers to growth and innovation in the waste sector.[73] Stewart as 'Floods Minister' joined the National Flood Resilience Review, formed in 2016 and chaired by the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Oliver Letwin.[74] Stewart initiated the Cumbria Floods Partnership in response to Storm Desmond, with a focus on long-term flood defence.[75] UK House of Commons cross-party Environment Audit Committee criticised Floods Minister Stewart "that the extra £700m [newly allocated flood defence monies] was the result of a 'political calculation' and that it might not be spent according to the strict value-for-money criteria currently used."[76]

As Environment Minister he introduced the plastic bag tax which dropped use of personal bags by 85% in 6 months;[77] and he was responsible for bringing the first draft of the 25 year environment plan in which he emphasised alongside biodiversity and ecosystems, the importance of human cultural features in the landscape, and particularly the conservation of small family sheep farms.[78] As Minister responsible for the National Parks, Stewart secured five years of increased funding for National Parks and AOBs.[79] He also ensured the extension of the Lake District and Yorkshire Dales National Park and supported the UNESCO World Heritage bid for the Lake District.[80]

Floods and water companies[edit]

As Floods Minister Stewart commissioned a Brigadier from the Royal Marines to conduct an immediate review of government responses to flooding.[81] This identified the potential gaps between different agencies, and the challenges in coordinating resilience measures, emergency response and recovery.[81] In 2014 the new system was tested by Storm Desmond in which areas of Cumbria experienced the highest rainfall ever recorded. Over the next few days more than 9000 houses were flooded in Cumbria, Yorkshire and Lancashire.[82] Stewart arrived on the ground as the flood water was rising and remained there over the following weeks, helping to coordinate the government response.[83]

His approach to the floods put a particular emphasis on rapid military deployment, close analysis of the detailed situation in outlying villages and the reopening of key bridges such as Appleby.[84] He then represented his department on the cross-ministerial group that oversaw financial compensation and grants to flooded households.[85] His role was further reinforced when he was made the prime ministerial flood envoy for Cumbria and Lancashire.[86] While he was the Flood Envoy the government committed an additional 74 million pounds of funding, and over 100 million for the repair of basic infrastructure in Cumbria.[87] He was particularly involved in driving the reopening of the A591 and the bridge at Pooley Bridge.[88] He then established the Cumbria Flood Partnership and competitions in river modelling to ensure that all stages of flood risk had been measured from the source to the sea.[89]

Stewart took through Parliament the legislation for the introduction of retail competition into the water sector.[90] He brought together water companies to reach a joint proposal on long term British investment in the water industry.

Minister of State for International Development – Asia and the Middle East[edit]

After Theresa May replaced David Cameron as Prime Minister, Stewart was promoted to Minister of State for International Development on 17 July 2016.[3][91]

Minister of State for Africa at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office[edit]

Stewart at the London Illegal Wildlife Trade Conference 2018

Stewart was promoted to become joint Minister for Africa, taking over responsibility for the Foreign Office and its embassies in Africa, as well as DfID in Africa. In this capacity he has visited Nigeria,[92] Uganda,[93] Botswana,[94] Zambia,[95] Tanzania,[96] Ethiopia,[97] Somalia,[98] Rwanda,[99] DRC,[100] South Sudan,[101] Kenya,[102] Zimbabwe[103] and to the United National General Assembly in New York (UNGA).[104] During these trips he held personal meetings with President Kagame of Rwanda,[105] President Kabila of DRC,[106] President Lungu of Zambia,[95] President Magufuli of Tanzania,[96] and President Mnangagwa of Zimbabwe.[107] In this role Stewart was the driving force behind the British Government's new Africa Strategy and pushed for more resources to go into the Foreign Office network in Africa. His most notable trip was to Zimbabwe where he was the first foreign dignitary to be received by President Mnangagwa.[108] His Zimbabwe policy pressed for political reform, and free and fair elections.[103]

Minister of State at the Ministry of Justice – Minister for Prisons[edit]

Stewart was appointed Minister of State with responsibility for prisons and probation in England and Wales in January 2018.[109] He was appointed in the aftermath of a highly critical leaked report on the state of HMP Liverpool, in which the inspector described it as the "worst prison he had ever seen" with piles of rubbish, rats, soaring violence and drug use and poor health provision.[110] Stewart immediately visited the prison and, testifying before the Justice Select Committee, announced his determination to clean up prisons in England and Wales.[111] He told the Committee that "we need to get back to basics. We need to absolutely insist that we're going to run clean, decent prisons and there has been too much, from my point of view, over the last few years, of very, very abstract conversations about grand bits of prison policy, which are important, but we cannot lose the basics".[112] This approach has involved the proposed introduction of scanners at prison gates, the fixing of windows, the cleaning of facilities and increases in the number of sniffer dogs and searches of cells.[citation needed]

This advocacy of a "back to basics" approach was recorded in The Guardian, with Stewart writing an opinion piece in the publication, entitled "I strongly believe we can improve our prisons and make progress".[113] He has written further articles on the situation in prisons, in which he has described the challenges that a prisons minister faces and the problems inherent to micromanaging.[citation needed]

Since starting at the Ministry of Justice, Stewart has visited numerous prisons and has been vocal in his praise for HM Prison Service and HMPPS. On 6 March 2018, Stewart told the House of Commons that the target of recruiting 2,500 extra prison officers had been achieved nine months ahead of schedule and he delivered a speech paying tribute to HMPS on 27 April 2018.[114] He told MPs that "prison officers operate out of sight of society. They have the most extraordinarily challenging profession. It requires unbelievable takes astonishing courage...[and] it also takes great moral authority to act as a mentor, a teacher and in some ways a friend to help prisoners on the path to reformation".[115]

In April 2018 Stewart took the Assaults on Emergency Workers (Offences) Private Member's Bill through the House of Commons, on behalf of the government, which doubled the maximum sentences for those who attack emergency services personnel and introduced sexual assault as an aggravating factor in sentencing.[116]

In August 2018, during an interview with BBC Breakfast, Stewart announced the launch of the Ten Prisons Project. He argued that, despite five years of continuous rise in violence in prisons, it was possible to turn it around. Stewart argued that it could be done through improving perimeter gate security (to catch drugs) and by improving training and support of staff. The key, he said, was to get the basics right. He undertook to create a new Prison Officer handbook and a new course at the training college for prison officers. Stewart pledged, in the same interview, that he would resign if this project was not successful.[117]

Secretary of State for International Development[edit]

In May 2019, Stewart was promoted to Cabinet after the dismissal of Gavin Williamson from Cabinet, replacing the new Defence Secretary Penny Mordaunt in the Department for International Development.

2019 leadership election[edit]

Stewart was a candidate in the 2019 Conservative leadership election.[118] On 13 June 2019, Stewart made it through the first parliamentary ballot, gaining 19 votes, two more than the elimination threshold.[119] On 16 June he appeared, as one of the six remaining candidates, in a televised debate on Channel 4.[120] On 18 June 2019, he also made it through the second parliamentary ballot, with 37 votes from a threshold of 33.[121] On 19 June 2019, he gained 27 votes and was eliminated as the last-placed candidate.[122]

It was revealed the same day that Stewart was in talks with Michael Gove to stop Boris Johnson becoming Prime Minister.[123]



His first book, The Places in Between, was an account of his 32-day solo walk across Afghanistan in early 2002.[124] It was a New York Times best-seller, with the newspaper also naming it one of its 10 notable books of 2006 and hailing it as a "flat-out masterpiece".[4] It won the Royal Society of Literature Ondaatje Prize,[125] a Scottish Arts Council prize,[126] the Spirit of Scotland award,[127] and the Premio de Literatura de Viaje Caminos del Cid [es].[127] It was short-listed for a Scottish Arts Council prize,[128] the Guardian First Book Award[129] and the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize.[129] The book was adapted into a radio play by Benjamin Yeoh and was broadcast in 2007 on BBC Radio 4.[130]

Stewart's second book, The Prince of the Marshes: and other Occupational Hazards of a Year in Iraq, also published as Occupational Hazards: My Time Governing in Iraq, describes his experiences as a Deputy Governorate Co-ordinator in Iraq.[4] The New York Times critic William Grimes commented that Stewart "seems to be living one of the more extraordinary lives on record", but for him the "real value of the new book is Mr. Stewart's sobering picture of the difficulties involved in creating a coherent Iraqi state based on the rule of law".[131] Stewart's books have been translated into multiple languages.

Stewart's reflections on the circumstances under which outside military and political intervention in countries' internal affairs may or may not hope to achieve positive results were distilled in a 2011 book, Can Intervention Work?, co-authored with Gerald Knaus and part of the Amnesty International Global Ethics Series. He has also written about theory and practice of travel writings in prefaces to Wilfred Thesiger's Arabian Sands,[132] Charles Doughty's Arabia Deserta[133] and Robert Byron's The Road to Oxiana.[134]

In 2016, he published The Marches: Border Walks With My Father a travelogue about a 1,000-mile walk in the borderlands separating England and Scotland, known as the Scottish Marches, and an extended essay on his father, Brian Stewart.[135] The Marches was long listed for the Orwell Prize, won the Hunter Davies Lakeland Book of the Year,[136] was a Waterstones Book of the Month,[137] and became a Sunday Times top ten bestseller.[138]


Stewart is a columnist for the Cumberland and Westmorland Herald, contributing a fortnightly column,[139] and has been a columnist for The New York Times,[140] in addition to a contributor to the New York Review of Books,[141] and the London Review of Books.[142]


Stewart has written and presented three BBC documentaries:

  • The Legacy of Lawrence of Arabia (2010).[143]
  • Afghanistan: The Great Game – A Personal View by Rory Stewart (2012) a documentary in two parts that tells the story of foreign intervention by Britain, Russia and the United States in Afghanistan from the 19th century to the present day, which aired on BBC2 and which won a Scottish BAFTA.[144]
  • Border Country: The Story of Britain's Lost Middleland (2014), which investigates the rift created by Hadrian's Wall and the issues of identity and culture in a region divided by the fabricated border.[62]

Prizes and honours[edit]


Personal life[edit]

In 2012 he married American Shoshana Clark, a former employee.[156][157] They had their first child in November 2014 — a son whom Stewart delivered at home in the absence of medical assistance[158] — and their second child was born in April 2017.[159][better source needed] Shoshana and her former husband were volunteering at the Turquoise Mountain Foundation in Afghanistan when she met Stewart.[160]

In 2012, the Telegraph reported that in 2008, Brad Pitt bought the rights to make a film about Stewart, particularly his time in Afghanistan, with Orlando Bloom expected to play the leading role.[160]

During the 2019 Conservative leadership election, Stewart admitted he had smoked opium during a wedding in Iran.[161] Several other candidates admitted to previous illegal drug use during the leadership contest.[162]

Stewart lives at Dufton in Cumbria.[163] He is a member of the The Athenaeum Club and the Special Forces Club.[164]


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External links[edit]

Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
David Maclean
Member of Parliament
for Penrith and The Border