LONDON (REUTERS) - Boris Johnson, who has pledged to deliver Brexit on Oct 31, edged closer to power on Thursday (June 13) when he won by far the most support from Conservative Party lawmakers in the first round of the contest to replace Prime Minister Theresa May.
Three years since voting 52 per cent to 48 per cent to leave the European Union, the United Kingdom is heading towards a possible crisis over Brexit, as most of the candidates vying to succeed Mrs May are prepared to leave on Oct 31 without a deal.
But the British Parliament has indicated it will try to thwart such a no-deal exit - a step cartoonists regularly portray as driving over a cliff and that investors warn would send shock waves through financial markets and the world economy.
Mr Johnson, the face of the official Brexit campaign in the 2016 referendum, won the support of 114 Conservative lawmakers in the first round of the contest to replace Mrs May. A total of 313 lawmakers voted.
Of the other 10 candidates in the first round, Mr Jeremy Hunt, currently foreign minister, garnered 43 votes; Mr Michael Gove, currently environment minister, garnered 37 votes and Mr Dominic Raab, former Brexit minister, won 27 votes.
Ms Andrea Leadsom, former leader of the House of Commons, Mr Mark Harper and Ms Esther McVey were knocked out.
Betting markets give Mr Johnson, who has a long record of scandals and gaffes, a 70 per cent probability of winning the top job.
After Thursday's vote, Mr Johnson said: "Thank you to my friends and colleagues in the Conservative & Unionist Party for your support. I am delighted to win the first ballot, but we have a long way to go."
The second round is due next Tuesday with further ballots planned for next Wednesday and Thursday until there are just two candidates. A postal ballot of the wider Conservative Party membership will then be held to pick a leader. A new prime minister should be chosen by the end of July.
Mr Johnson kicked off his official campaign on Wednesday with a pledge to lead Britain out of the European Union on Oct 31 and a warning to his divided Conservative Party that "delay means defeat".
"After three years and two missed deadlines, we must leave the EU on October 31," Mr Johnson, a 54-year-old former foreign minister and London mayor, said then. "I am not aiming for a no-deal outcome."
Mr Johnson, whose unconventional style has helped him shrug off a series of scandals in the past, has won over much of his party by arguing that only he can rescue the Conservatives by delivering Brexit.
The EU has refused to renegotiate the Withdrawal Agreement reached with Mrs May last November, and Ireland has indicated it is not willing to change the Irish border "backstop" that upsets the Northern Irish party which props up Mrs May's minority government.