UK: Johnson in pole position after first round of leadership vote

Jacob Rees-Moog

The Etonian said he does not favour a no deal Brexit necessarily but one should be left on the table as part of European Union negotiations as "a last resort".

The Conservative Party will hold its next round Tuesday, when candidates with less than 33 votes will be eliminated.

The contestants who were eliminated from the race to sit on the Prime Ministerial seat include Andrea Leadsom, Mark Harper and Esther McVey.

May, who remains prime minister, stepped down as party leader on Friday, having failed to deliver her plan for taking Britain out of the European Union after almost three years in the post.

The list of candidates reflects the divergence of views within the ruling party on Brexit.

Hunt and Gove are against leaving on no-deal terms in October.

Ms McVey said she was "extremely grateful" to those who had voted for her in the ballot.

Finance minister Philip Hammond also kept mum on his vote.

The contest so far has been dominated by revelations of Gove's past drug-taking and bickering over the best way to resolve the Brexit impasse.

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He argues that if Britain is prepared for a no-deal Brexit, the European Union will bend to his argument to remove the so-called Northern Irish backstop to prevent a return to a hard border with Ireland if there is no agreed future trade deal.

The Brexit deal has been delayed twice under Prime Minister Theresa May, and now the deadline for the deal stands on October 31.

A small hardcore of ultra-remain Conservative Members of Parliament voted with Labour to act against no-deal Brexit Wednesday night - an attempt that was seen off by the government - but now former attorney general and anti-Brexit rebel Dominic Grieve has said he would try to bring the government down altogether.

Conservative MPs will keep whittling down the contenders until a final two remain. The victor will become Conservative leader and British prime minister.

That's because with support from well over a third of Conservative MPs Boris Johnson already has enough votes to give him a place in the last two.

The candidates face their first live television debate on Sunday in a 90-minute programme on Channel 4. Stewart received a boost, before Tory MPs cast their votes, when Conservative Home - the Tory grassroots website - revealed that he was now members' second favorite for the top job.

After further rounds of voting next week, the party hopes to be down to the last two by the end of June 20.

The final pair will then be put to a vote of members of the wider Conservative Party from 22 June, with the victor expected to be announced about four weeks later. May resigned as party leader earlier this month, and will depart as prime minister, after failing to sell lawmakers on an exit agreement.

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