Boris Johnson has secured an overwhelming victory in the first ballot of the Conservative Party leadership contest but insisted there was a “long way to go” before he can claim the keys to Number 10.
The former foreign secretary already appears almost certain to make it to the final stage of the contest after receiving 114 votes from Tory MPs in the opening round of the leadership battle.
Three candidates – Mark Harper, Andrea Leadsom and Esther McVey – were eliminated from the race, leaving seven MPs still in the running.
But Mr Johnson’s clear victory, 71 votes ahead of nearest rival Jeremy Hunt, suggests he will be one of the final candidates competing for the votes of the Tory members across the country who decide the next prime minister.
Mr Johnson said: “Thank you to my friends and colleagues in the Conservative and Unionist Party for your support.
“I am delighted to win the first ballot, but we have a long way to go.”
The first round of voting by Conservative MPs saw the crowded field in the race to replace Theresa May whittled down, with three falling at the first hurdle.
The elimination of Ms McVey and Mrs Leadsom means Mrs May will not be replaced by another female in Number 10.
Leadership hopefuls needed at least 17 votes in the secret ballot to go through to the second round, with anyone below that threshold automatically eliminated.
The full results of the ballot were:
– Boris Johnson: 114 votes
– Jeremy Hunt: 43 votes
– Michael Gove: 37 votes
– Dominic Raab: 27 votes
– Sajid Javid: 23 votes
– Matt Hancock: 20 votes
– Rory Stewart: 19 votes
– Andrea Leadsom: 11 votes
– Mark Harper: 10 votes
– Esther McVey: 9 votes
At the next round of voting on June 18, candidates will need 33 votes to remain in the contest.
If necessary, subsequent rounds will determine the final two names who will go to a ballot of the estimated 160,000 Tory members who will decide the country’s next leader.
Mr Hunt said he was “delighted” to have finished second behind Mr Johnson – and stressed a “serious” leader was needed, in an apparent jibe at his rival.
“We face a crucial choice: who can negotiate some better choices than the bad ones we face,” he said.
“The stakes have rarely been higher for our country. This serious moment calls for a serious leader.”
Environment Secretary Michael Gove said he was “delighted” to be through to the next round, and that he wanted to have a “proper debate about ideas”.
The 30 votes which had been won by Mr Harper, Mrs Leadsom and Ms McVey are now up for grabs, with the remaining leadership candidates set to battle for support to ensure they can get over the threshold required in the next round.
Mr Stewart, who has won plaudits for his energetic campaign but struggled to secure support from his fellow MPs, insisted “we can win this”.
He told the Press Association he was “absolutely over the moon” to have secured just enough votes to survive the first ballot.
The International Development Secretary said it was a “very open race” to enter the final two alongside Mr Johnson and that he would be reaching out to “every single colleague” ahead of the next round.
“I’m going to have to now say to those who are neck and neck with me, I’m afraid this is the time to be serious.”
Health Secretary Matt Hancock, who had 20 votes, tweeted: “Thanks so much for the fantastic support – terrific to have more votes from colleagues than I could have hoped for.”
Former Brexit secretary Dominic Raab, who received 27 votes, said: “This campaign is just getting started and we’ve got a good base to build on.
“I’m the change candidate who can be trusted to deliver Brexit by October and has the vision and energy to take Britain forward, and beat Jeremy Corbyn.”
Ms McVey said she would speak to the remaining candidates to decide who is “best placed to deliver” on her programme of a “clean break” from the EU and investment in public services.
Defence Secretary Penny Mordaunt, who is supporting Mr Hunt’s campaign, told the Press Association: “I think he’s attractive to many sides of the party because he’s a serious individual.
“But he’s also, I think, set out a clear and realistic plan for how we’re going to get the best Brexit possible for the country because we don’t just have to do this, we have to do it really well, and that’s why he’s got my support.”