4 U.K. Conservative candidates remain in race to succeed PM Theresa May
Rory Stewart, who'd gained in 2nd round results, fell back in voting Wednesday to be ousted from race
The contest to become Britain's next prime minister is down to four candidates, with Boris Johnson building on his commanding lead in a Conservative Party vote.
Johnson gained 143 of 313 votes cast by Conservative lawmakers Wednesday in their third round of voting i the contest to succeed much-maligned Prime Minister Theresa May and manage Britain's contentious exit from the European Union.
Johnson is being challenged by Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, Environment Secretary Michael Gove and Home Secretary Sajid Javid.
Johnson, who turned 55 on Wednesday, thanked supporters in a social media post but cautioned, "we have much further to go."
International Development Secretary Rory Stewart, a longshot candidate who energized the race, received the fewest votes and dropped out of the race.
After the result, Stewart said it had been "the most incredibly wonderful, exciting campaign."
The results of the third round of voting were, with their vote totals from the previous rounds in brackets:
- Boris Johnson, 143 (126/114).
- Jeremy Hunt, 54 (46/43).
- Michael Gove, 51 (41/36).
- Sajid Javid, 38 (33/23).
- Rory Stewart, 27 (37/19).
The next vote will take place Thursday morning, and by the end of the week only two candidates will remain.
The mainly pro-Brexit Conservative Party members, some 160,000 in all, will cast the deciding votes in a weeks-long process involving mail ballots that will culminate in the announcement of the winner the week beginning July 22.
Johnson is all but guaranteed to be one of the two finalists and is believed to have significant support among grass roots party members.
He added 17 votes to his total from the previous round, presumably including ex-Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab, who endorsed Johnson on Wednesday after being the candidate eliminated the day before.
"Boris will make sure we leave the EU on time," Raab said.
There had been speculation in the British press in the runup to the third vote that Stewart had been talking to Gove about combining forces.
Hunt and Gove are both considered experienced and competent ministers, while Gove seems to have shrugged off the revelation that he used cocaine two decades ago.
Javid, the son of Pakistani immigrants, says he offers a common-man alternative to private school-educated rivals like Johnson and Stewart, although he was a highly paid investment banker before entering politics.
Stewart had energized the contest with a combination of plain speaking and quirkiness.
A former diplomat who once walked across Afghanistan and was a deputy provincial governor in Iraq after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion, Stewart is also the only contender regularly asked whether he has been a British spy. He denies it — but notes that former spies are barred by law from disclosing their covert pasts.
It is questionable whether any of the candidates, including Johnson, can deliver a negotiated withdrawal with the EU where May failed.
Johnson faces further questions about his temperament and propensity for gaffes, dating back to his time as mayor of London.
Ian Blackburn of the Scottish National Party caused an uproar in Parliament in Wednesday, branding Johnson a racist who "has a record of dishonesty."
With files from CBC News