Conservative leadership battle: Boris Johnson edges closer to power as he dominates voting in first round
- Dominated the first round of contest with 114 votes
- Has promised to deliver Brexit on 31 October
- Andrea Leadsom among three eliminated from race
THE prospect of Boris Johnson becoming the next British Prime Minister has moved closer after he topped the ballot in the first round of voting in the Conservative leadership race.
Mark Harper, Esther McVey and Andrea Leadsom have been eliminated from the contest.
Mr Johnson, who has pledged to deliver Brexit on October 31, edged closer to power when he won by far the most support from Conservative Party MPs in the first round of the contest to replace British Prime Minister Theresa May.
The United Kingdom is heading towards a possible crisis over Brexit as most of the candidates vying to succeed May are prepared to leave on October 31 without a deal - something that potentially has massive knock-on implications for Ireland.
The British parliament has indicated it will try to thwart such a no-deal exit - a step cartoonists regularly portray as driving over a cliff and that investors warn would send shock waves through financial markets and the world economy.
Mr Johnson, the face of the official Brexit campaign in the 2016 referendum, won the support of 114 Conservative MPs in the first round of the contest to replace May. A total of 313 MPs voted.
Of the other 10 candidates in the first round, Jeremy Hunt, currently foreign minister, garnered 43 votes; Michael Gove, currently environment minister, garnered 37 votes and Dominic Raab, former Brexit minister, won 27 votes.
Andrea Leadsom, former leader of the House of Commons, Mark Harper and Esther McVey were knocked out.
Betting markets give Mr Johnson, who has a long record of scandals and gaffes, a 70pc probability of winning the top job.
After Thursday's vote, Mr Johnson said: "Thank you to my friends and colleagues in the Conservative & Unionist Party for your support. I am delighted to win the first ballot, but we have a long way to go."
The second round is due on June 18 with further ballots planned for June 19 and June 20 until there are just two candidates. A postal ballot of the wider Conservative Party membership will then be held to pick a leader. A new prime minister should be chosen by the end of July.
Esther McVey, who was eliminated from the leadership contest, said she would speak to the remaining candidates before deciding who to give her support.
In a statement, she said: "I am extremely grateful to those people who voted for me in this election and to the fantastic team who have supported my campaign.
"I am pleased to have had a platform to make the case for Blue Collar Conservatism, a clean break from the EU and the need to invest money into schools, policing and a proper pay rise for our public sector workers.
"I will speak to the remaining candidates to see who is best placed to deliver on that programme.
"I wish the remaining candidates well and I hope that all Conservative MPs will unite behind whoever wins this contest which is essential to prevent the disaster of a Marxist Government.
"Whoever becomes the new leader will certainly receive my support."
International Development Secretary Rory Stewart said he was "absolutely over the moon" to have secured just enough votes to survive the first ballot.
He told the Press Association: "Remember, I had six declared votes and I have more than tripled that, so I'm really really happy and candidates who started that contest with four times the number of declared votes as me are now almost level pegging with me.
"This is now neck and neck going into the next round and for somebody who passionately believes that politics is about listening and who made a difficult decision to start this campaign not in this place but outside listening to people, I feel really inspired and encouraged and desperate to do more for the people who are supporting me out there."
He said it was a "very open race" to enter the final two alongside Boris Johnson and that he would be reaching out to "every single colleague" ahead of the next round.
"I'm going to have to now say to those who are neck and neck with me, I'm afraid this is the time to be serious."
Mr Johnson kicked off his official campaign on Wednesday with a pledge to lead Britain out of the European Union on October 31 and a warning to his divided Conservative Party that "delay means defeat".
"After three years and two missed deadlines, we must leave the EU on October 31," Mr Johnson, a 54-year-old former foreign minister and London mayor, said then. "I am not aiming for a no-deal outcome."
Mr Johnson, whose unconventional style has helped him shrug off a series of scandals in the past, has won over much of his party by arguing that only he can rescue the Conservatives by delivering Brexit.
The EU has refused to renegotiate the Withdrawal Agreement reached with Mrs May last November, and Ireland has indicated it is not willing to change the border "backstop" that upset the DUP which props up May's minority government.
Here are the results of the first round of voting in the Conservative leadership race:
- Boris Johnson: 114 votes
- Jeremy Hunt: 43 votes
- Michael Gove: 37 votes
- Dominic Raab: 27 votes
- Sajid Javid: 23 votes
- Matt Hancock: 20 votes
- Rory Stewart: 19 votes
- Andrea Leadsom: 11 votes
- Mark Harper: 10 votes
- Esther McVey: 9 votes
More to follow