- Boris Johnson wins the first round of the Conservative party leadership contest.
- Johnson wins the backing of 114 Conservative MPs ahead of his nearest rival Jeremy Hunt on 43.
- Three Conservative MPs drop out.
- The party’s MPs will now vote for a second time on Tuesday.
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LONDON – Boris Johnson is heading to victory in the contest to replace Theresa May as prime minister after winning the first round of the Conservative party leadership contest.
The former Foreign Secretary was backed on Thursday by 114 Conservative MPs ahead of his nearest rival Jeremy Hunt on 43.
The result means that Johnson will go into the second round of voting, due to take place next Tuesday, alongside the remaining six other candidates.
The party’s MPs will then go through a series of additional votes before the final two candidates are voted on by the wider membership at the end of July.
The result follows the launch of Johnson’s campaign on Wednesday in which he pledged to restore his party’s fortunes and “unite” the country after the divisions caused by Brexit.
Johnson was forced to drop out of the last Conservative leadership contest in 2016, due to lack of support, but has seen his fortunes boosted following the collapse of Theresa May’s administration and the rise of Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party.
Surveys of Conservative activists suggest that he is the overwhelming favourite among party members to succeed May and bring back Brexit-supporting voters’ who have deserted the party since May’s decision to delay Brexit.
Johnson has promised to take Britain out of the EU at the end of October, with or without a deal. However, he has insisted that a new deal can still be negotiated with the EU and passed by parliament before the end of the six month extension.
The Chancellor Philip Hammond dismissed this on Wednesday, saying that it would prove “impossible” to leave the EU by the October 31 deadline.
“I think it will be very difficult, in fact I think it will be impossible to do this by 31 October and I don’t think it will be in our national interest to drive toward this cliff edge,” Hammond said at an event hosted by Bloomberg.
Johnson has also run into difficulties over his past, with questions raised at his launch event on Wednesday about his previous comments about Muslim women, as well as his alleged use of illegal drugs.