Stewart out as Johnson extends lead

Four men are left in the race to be the next prime minister after Rory Stewart was knocked out

Four men are left in the race to be the next prime minister after Rory Stewart was knocked out.

The international development secretary was eliminated after coming last with 27 votes, 10 fewer than last time.

He said his warnings about a no-deal Brexit “probably proved to be truths people weren’t quite ready to hear”.

Boris Johnson topped the vote again with 143 votes, 17 more than last time. Jeremy Hunt came second with 54, Michael Gove got 51 and Sajid Javid 38.

results Tory leadership

A fourth round of voting will take place on Thursday.

Mr Stewart started as a rank outsider in the race but gained support on the back of an unusual campaign strategy.

Touring the country for pop-up meetings, which were promoted and recorded on social media, he drew large crowds and won the backing of several senior cabinet ministers.

He had accused other candidates, including Mr Johnson, of lacking realism over Brexit and making undeliverable promises.>

After his elimination, he tweeted that he had been “inspired” by the support he received which had rekindled his faith and belief in politics.

Javid, Gove and Hunt will be keen to gain Stewart’s supporters. Amber Rudd, the work and pensions secretary who is backing Hunt, hosted a dinner on Wednesday night for the One Nation group of Tory moderates, of which Stewart is a founder member.

Hunt’s team underlined that their candidate would be prepared to give Johnson a hard time in the final rounds. “If colleagues choose Jeremy, he will put his heart and soul into giving Boris the contest of his life,” a spokesman said. “The stakes are too high to allow anyone to sail through untested.”

Javid’s team insisted he would not be pulling out of the race, and denied he had borrowed votes to oust Stewart. “Saj has never borrowed anything from anybody,” said one adviser.

His team plans to woo Stewart’s supporters by stressing their common characteristics and the home secretary was the first to praise his rival after the results came in.

“Rory acts differently, talks differently, speaks to different audiences, and that’s a message that he and Saj absolutely share,” the source said. “As we move forward into tomorrow we think we can talk to those MPs. Saj has been written off his entire life, but we think we can do it again.”

Hunt’s backers had been playing down expectations about how far the foreign secretary would advance, believing he would be unable to attract Raab’s former supporters. In the end, he kept his spot in second place but still attracted less support than Gove, who won 10 extra supporters to Hunt’s eight.

Johnson added 17 more MPs to his tally. However, key members of the European Research Group (ERG) of hard Brexiter Tory MPs have begun issuing coded warnings to the frontrunner about the limits of their support.

Members of the group were reportedly alarmed by Johnson’s refusal to be drawn on offering any guarantee of the UK leaving the EU on 31 October beyond saying it was “eminently feasible”.

His evasiveness was highlighted by Hunt, who told the BBC on Wednesday: “Boris has made a big play of saying we’ll leave, deal or no deal, on October 31. Yesterday, frankly, he suggested he wouldn’t be so absolute in that,” Hunt said. “I’m not entirely sure what he believes on this.”

Johnson’s backers, including Liz Truss, the chief secretary to the Treasury, and Steve Baker, the deputy chair of the ERG, insisted in broadcast interviews and on social media that they had guarantees the UK would exit by that date.

One prominent Brexiter, when asked what would happen to Johnson if he reneged on his pledge that the UK would be out by 31 October, said:

“The same thing that happened to Theresa May – only a lot quicker.”

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