Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt have made it to the final two of the Tory leadership contest and will now put their arguments to party members.
The pair came first and second in the final round respectively, with Environment Secretary Michael Gove dumped out of the competition after coming third on Thursday evening.
The evening vote saw Mr Johnson pick up 160 votes from MPs, Mr Hunt tallied 77 and Mr Gove had 75 backers. Mr Gove was eliminated from the contest as he was the candidate with the fewest votes.
Sajid Javid, the Home Secretary who was raised in Bristol, was eliminated earlier on in the day.
Mr Johnson remains the overwhelming favourite to win the keys to 10 Downing Street but anti-Boris figures will be hoping Mr Hunt will be able to take apart his Brexit position and tax cuts.
During the BBC leadership debate on Tuesday evening there was a hint at how Mr Hunt will look to damage Mr Johnson’s chances of winning. He brought up how sheep farmers would be facing business-destroying trade tariffs of up to 40 per cent on the sale of lamb into the EU if the UK pursues a no-deal Brexit.
Mr Hunt has said a no-deal Brexit would be possible under his leadership, he is willing to push back the October 31 exit deadline if a new deal is looking possible, while Mr Johnson has adopted a sterner resolve and said there must be no further delays to leaving.
The pair will now travel across the country and appear before members during hustings in every region of the UK, including the South West, before the victor is declared during the week of July 22.
Conservative Campaign Headquarters is set to release the dates for the hustings in the coming days.
WHAT TO WATCH OUT FOR
(Image: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire)
- At his launch event a week ago, Mr Johnson was keen to emphasise his eight-year tenure as London mayor where he enjoyed a healthy record on house building and policing, while also fighting off a left-wing faction of the Labour Party.
- Do not expect to hear much about his time as foreign secretary – a period seen as a weakness in his claim for No.10. He was heavily briefed against by colleagues on the international stage and his comments about Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, the British woman being held in Iran, being overseas to teach journalism reportedly led to a heftier jail term.
- The 55-year-old Oxford graduate is still the favourite to win this contest, given his huge popularity among members – expect him to use that to his advantage and to stay out of the limelight, beyond appearing at hustings and the odd interview with a high profile journalist.
- Mr Johnson is sure to use his verbose personality to position himself as the candidate to fend off the rise of Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party and Jeremy Corbyn’s personal and young appeal as Labour leader. While the Brexit Party is not likely to fare overly well in Bristol at the next election, Mr Johnson knows he must counter the surge that Labour experienced in 2017 if he is to win a majority next time round.
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The South West Surrey MP has had an established Cabinet career, having served as culture and health secretary before being promoted to the Foreign Office. Expect him to promote his successes in that job as proof that he is ready to take the final step and become prime minister.
As an entrepreneur and as secretary of state, Mr Hunt has proved he can do deals – including convincing the tight-fisted Chancellor Philip Hammond to part with £20bn of extra NHS cash while in charge of health. He is unlikely to be shy in comparing that to the need to win further concessions from a united European Union if there are further negotiations over the Brexit deal.
The 52-year-old voted and campaigned for remain in 2016 and, given a poll this week showed Tory members would prefer for the United Kingdom to break-up rather than lose Brexit, he could find it an uphill struggle to convince the party that he is the man to deliver Britain’s EU exit.
Mr Hunt was one of the first to meet US President Donald Trump off the plane during his UK visit a fortnight ago and has strong international credentials since becoming Foreign Secretary, especially given he speaks Japanese and Chinese. Members looking for a statesman at a time of national crisis could look to him rather than blundering Boris.