The race to become Britain’s next prime minister is down to the final four on Wednesday, as Boris Johnson stretched his lead among Conservative lawmakers and upstart Rory Stewart was eliminated from the contest.
Johnson, a former London mayor, and UK foreign secretary won 143 of 313 votes cast in a third-round ballot of Conservative lawmakers. Many fellow Brexit supporters in Parliament have rallied behind his insistence that Britain must leave the European Union as scheduled on Oct. 31.
Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, Environment Secretary Michael Gove, and Home Secretary Sajid Javid trailed well behind, while Stewart came last and was dropped from the race.
More votes on Thursday will winnow the field down to two. The final pair of candidates with the most votes will appear on a runoff ballot mailed to about 160,000 party members across the country.
With Johnson all but guaranteed to be one of the two finalists, Hunt, Gove, and Javid are battling for the second spot in the runoff.
The winner, expected to be announced in late July, will replace Theresa May as party leader and prime minister. May stepped down as Conservative leader earlier this month after failing to secure Parliament's approval for her Brexit deal.
Wednesday’s vote ended the gravity-defying campaign of Stewart, who began as a longshot but sent an electric charge through the race as the “anti-Boris” candidate. He got just 27 votes, fewer than in the second round.
A former diplomat who once walked across Afghanistan and was a deputy provincial governor in Iraq after the 2003 US-led invasion, the 46-year-old lawmaker called out his rivals for what he saw as their fantasies and empty promises and called for compromise on Brexit.
His quirky campaign, which saw him crisscross Britain talking and listening to voters, struck a chord with the public – though was less of a hit with his Conservative colleagues in Parliament.
After the result, Stewart said it had been “the most incredibly wonderful, exciting campaign.”
He said that although he had not managed to persuade his colleagues, the public reaction proved that “pragmatism” and “the center ground” were alive and kicking in politics.
Hunt, who got 54 votes, and Gove with 51 are tussling for second place and the slot of Johnsons’ runoff opponent. Javid struggled in fourth place, with 38 votes.