Boris Johnson takes lead in race for British prime minister

Bosris Johnson says he will pull the UK out of the European Union by Halloween

Bosris Johnson says he will pull the UK out of the European Union by Halloween

Boris Johnson secured the most support in the first round of votes in Britain's Conservative Party leadership race, while three other candidates were eliminated Thursday.

They have another round of hustings before Conservative MPs on Monday before Tuesday's second ballot, when the bar rises from 16 backers to 32, again with the contender with the fewest votes dropping out. After they're finished whittling it down to two candidates, it will then be handed to the Conservative membership to make the final decision - perhaps 160,000 people, representing 0.25% of the population, will be deciding all of our futures. His successor as foreign secretary, Jeremy Hunt, trailed with 43 votes, followed by Environment Secretary Michael Gove with 37.

Johnson, a former foreign secretary and leading Brexit campaigner, got 114 votes in the secret ballot among more than 300 Conservative lawmakers.

Andrea Leadsom, Esther McVey and Mark Harper were knocked out of the running having failed to secure the necessary 17 votes to proceed to the next round.

Further ballots will be held next week, with the two most popular MPs moving to a run-off of Tory party members.

Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt came second in the race, and is, at this stage, Johnson's main rival for the top job.

"Obviously we're happy with the results but there's still a long way to go to winning the contest", a spokesman for Johnson told reporters.

Hunt, who has pitched himself as a unifier of both Brexit-supporting and pro-EU Conservatives, warned members of the party that "the stakes have rarely been higher for our country". "This serious moment calls for a serious leader".

The victor will become new party leader and automatically replace May as premier, most likely at the end of July.

The 30 votes which had been won by Mr Harper, Mrs Leadsom and Ms McVey are now up for grabs, with the remaining leadership candidates set to battle for support to ensure they can get over the threshold required in the next round.

Former Brexit secretary Dominic Raab (27), interior minister Sajid Javid (23), Health Secretary Matt Hancock (20) and International Development Secretary Rory Stewart (19) also survived the cut.

Raab, like Johnson, has warned that he was ready to take Britain out of the European Union without an agreement when the new Brexit deadline arrives in October, if the European Union does not offer better terms.

May refused to say who she had backed in Thursday's vote, telling reporters: "That's none of your business!"

He said: "You build on that by saying, this message I am selling, about being courageous in the centre ground and getting out and listening to people, is extraordinarily popular".

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