It's Boris Johnson versus Jeremy Hunt in final of race to be next British PM

Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt are the final two remaining candidates in the race to become Britain's next prime minister, after Conservative MPs waved goodbye to Michael Gove and Sajid Javid in the fourth ballot on Thursday.
Boris Johnson (left) checks his watch next to Jeremy Hunt (right) during a BBC TV leadership debate in London.
Boris Johnson (left) checks his watch next to Jeremy Hunt (right) during a BBC TV leadership debate in London.PHOTO: AFP

LONDON (AFP) - Boris Johnson will take on Jeremy Hunt as they become the final two in the race to become Britain's next prime minister after Michael Gove was narrowly eliminated on Thursday (June 20).

Former London mayor Johnson topped the fifth ballot of MPs in the governing Conservative Party with 160 votes, ahead of Foreign Secretary Hunt on 77 and Environment Secretary Gove on 75.

The centre-right party's 160,000 grassroots members will now pick their new leader from the final two, who will then take over from Mrs Theresa May as prime minister in late July.

"I'm deeply honoured to have secured more than 50 per cent of the vote in the final ballot," Mr Johnson said on Twitter.

"I look forward to getting out across the UK and to set out my plan to deliver Brexit, unite our country, and create a brighter future for all of us."

Mr Gove said he was "disappointed" but proud of his campaign.

He said: "It's been an honour to be able to set out a vision for the future of our great country. Many congratulations to Boris and Jeremy!"

MONTH-LONG CONTEST

All 313 Conservative MPs voted, including Mrs May by proxy, as she was at a European Union summit in Brussels. Only one ballot paper was rejected.

Mr Johnson racked up more than half of the total votes and is the runaway favourite to succeed Mrs May.

Ten candidates were nominated for the leadership and the party has whittled them down to two over the past week.

In Thursday's earlier fourth ballot, Interior Minister Sajid Javid was eliminated but Mr Gove overtook Mr Hunt for the first time to claim second place.

Mr Hunt replaced Mr Johnson as foreign secretary when he quit the government in July 2018 over Mrs May's Brexit strategy.

The two will face 16 hustings around the country, while televised debates between the pair will also be discussed with broadcasters.

Brexit will dominate the debates, with Britain due to leave the European Union on Oct 31.

Mr Johnson has said Britain must leave on time, with or without a deal - although in recent days, he has been less categorical.

Mr Hunt is prepared to delay the exit date if a deal is within sight, but is otherwise prepared to pull Britain out of the bloc without a divorce deal.

The new Conservative party leader will be declared in the week beginning July 22, and will then take over from Mrs May in Downing Street.

MPs are due to go on their six-week summer break on July 25, meaning they may get a chance to question the new prime minister before the recess.