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Rory Stewart

Rory Stewart

Brexit campaigner Boris Johnson cemented his position as the favourite to be Britain's next prime minister on Wednesday after he increased his support in the third round of the Conservative Party leadership contest.

The point is that he he could instruct a proportion of his foot soldiers to vote for Jeremy Hunt and see off Gove.

The 160,000 grassroots party members then choose their new leader, who will take over from Theresa May as prime minister, with the result declared in the week beginning July 22.

Sajid Javid burnished his credentials as a prospective chancellor of the exchequer with a call for a "bold" economic and social agenda as he bowed out of the leadership race.

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Johnson has the numbers - the votes of half Tory MPs - to be able to decide by personal fiat who he faces in the run-off.

The next round of voting in the contest will begin at 3.30pm on Thursday, with Boris Johnson and Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt the other candidates remaining alongside Mr Gove.

The vote, of all Conservative MPs, was the latest in the freakish process of choosing a leader of both party and country at the same time, de facto, if not de jure.

The victor of the runoff, due to be announced the week of July 22, will become Conservative leader and prime minister, replacing Theresa May. Interior minister Sajid Javid was knocked out in the fourth round earlier on Thursday. Gove received 61, leapfrogging Hunt, who has been in second place until now but got 59.

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Mr Gove was supported by 75 MPs - just two votes short of Mr Hunt's 77.

Britain's governing Conservatives were set to pick two candidates who will square off to become the country's next prime minister. The three others are battling to join him in a runoff to be decided by 160,000 Conservative Party members nationwide.

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All the candidates are vowing to lead Britain out of the European Union, a challenge that defeated May.

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He and Mr Hunt will now compete in a run-off of the party's 160,000 or so members, and the victor will be announced in the week of 22 July.

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