London, 20 June 2019 (dpa/MIA) – Boris Johnson, the strong favourite to succeed British Prime Minister Theresa May, extended his lead after a fourth round of voting by Conservative lawmakers on Thursday.
The 313 lawmakers will hold a fifth ballot later Thursday to narrow the field from three to two final candidates for a postal vote by the party’s 160,000 members.
The result of the leadership contest is expected in the week beginning July 22.
Whoever is elected the new leader of the Conservatives will also become prime minister and determine Britain’s Brexit policies in the coming months.
Eurosceptic Johnson won 157 votes in the fourth ballot of lawmakers, far ahead of second-placed Environment Secretary Michael Gove on 61, the party said.
Home Secretary Sajid Javid, whose campaign focussed on diversity and equality of opportunity, was eliminated with the lowest total of 34 votes.
Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt remains in the race after winning 59 votes and will vie with Gove for the right to a run-off with Johnson.
Johnson said he was “delighted to have the support of over half of all Conservative MPs in the fourth ballot.”
“I am incredibly grateful, but we have much more work to do,” he tweeted.
Johnson has said he wants to renegotiate Britain’s withdrawal agreement with the European Union but has insisted that it must keep a last-resort option of a no-deal Brexit.
He has vowed to take Britain out of the bloc with or without a deal on the agreed deadline of October 31.
Gove tweeted that he was “absolutely delighted to come second in the latest ballot.”
“It’s all to play for in the final ballot this afternoon,” he added. “If I make the final two I look forward to having a civilized debate of ideas about the future of our country.”
Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd urged Johnson earlier Thursday to reject “game playing” in the contest, after reports that his camp favours a run-off with Hunt and has urged some supporters to switch their votes to him.
“I find all this conversation about lending votes rather discrediting of the system,” Rudd told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
“I would really call on Boris himself to repudiate the information that is coming out of ‘friends of Boris‘,” she said.
“This is a serious moment. We don’t need that sort of game playing going on in parliament,” said Rudd, who has backed Hunt in the race.
She was speaking amid speculation that Johnson wants to avoid a run-off with Gove.
In the last Conservative leadership election in 2016, which was won by May, Gove switched from supporting Johnsonto attacking the credentials of his friend and former ally, and announcing his own candidacy.
May replaced former prime minister David Cameron, who resigned following the Brexit referendum in in 2016, when voters failed to back his campaign for Britain to remains in the European Union.
She stepped down as Conservative leader on June 7 after failing to win parliamentary approval for the Brexit deal she negotiated with Brussels.