Jeremy Hunt will face Boris Johnson in the race to be the next Tory leader and PM, after Michael Gove was eliminated in the final ballot of the party’s MPs.
Environment Secretary Mr Gove was supported by 75 MPs – just two votes short of Mr Hunt’s 77.
Mr Johnson, who was backed by 160 Conservative MPs, said he was looking forward to “getting out across the UK” and to set out his Brexit plan.
He and Mr Hunt will now be put to a vote of around 160,000 party members.
The winner will be announced in the week of 22 July.
All 313 Conservative MPs voted – with one spoiled ballot recorded.
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Mr Johnson’s victory had been widely expected, but Mr Gove and Foreign Secretary Mr Hunt have been engaged for several days in a close fight for second place. In the previous ballot, earlier on Thursday, Mr Gove overtook his rival, only to see his lead reversed in the final MPs’ vote.
There were suggestions that Team Boris saw Mr Hunt as an easier candidate to beat and that some of his supporters lent votes to the current foreign secretary to help him see off Mr Gove’s ambitions.
A key Johnson aide denied this – but said he couldn’t speak for others. And with Mr Johnson’s own vote going up and demonstrating momentum, it’s a difficult charge to prove.
So there is only one Leaver in the contest.
But Mr Hunt will portray himself as a born-again Brexiteer, who would contemplate no deal – and, as an apparently more competent minister, someone who also has more chance of delivering a deal.
Before the final vote, a source close to Mr Hunt warned against reigniting the “personal psychodrama” between Mr Gove and Mr Johnson – who spearheaded the Vote Leave campaign together in 2016, but fell out after Mr Gove abandoned Mr Johnson’s previous leadership bid to launch his own.
Following the result of the final ballot, Mr Gove congratulated his rivals and said he was “naturally disappointed but so proud of the campaign we ran”.
Former Foreign Secretary Mr Johnson said he was “deeply honoured” to have gained the backing of more than half of all Tory MPs.
Meanwhile, Mr Hunt, acknowledged Mr Johnson as frontrunner to become party leader and prime minister, tweeting: “I’m the underdog but in politics surprises happen as they did today.”
He went on to praise Mr Gove as one of the “brightest stars in the Conservative team”.
Mr Gove’s campaign manager, Mel Stride, said he believed that Mr Gove’s admission that he had taken cocaine during the 1990s had damaged his bid, adding: “It stalled us and meant momentum was lost at that time.”
Mr Johnson and Mr Hunt will now take part in hustings in front of Conservative Party members around the country, before the votes are counted, with the final result expected to be announced towards the end of July.
They will also take part in a head-to-head debate on ITV on 9 July, following previous leadership debates hosted by Channel 4 and the BBC.
Labour’s national campaigns co-ordinator Andrew Gwynne said: “What a choice: the man who broke the NHS or the man who wants to sell it to Donald Trump.
“A handful of unrepresentative Conservative members should not be choosing our next prime minister. People should decide through a general election.”
The ballot of MPs earlier on Thursday saw Home Secretary Sajid Javid eliminated from the contest.
Tory leadership: Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt through}