London: The UK’s prime ministerial race narrowed to five candidates from six after a crunch vote on Tuesday when ruling Conservative Party MPs voted in a secret ballot for the second time to whittle down the list of contenders further.
The candidates are competing to become the next Conservative Party leader and the UK’s next Prime Minister after Theresa May was forced to step down over her failure to deliver Brexit.
She remains in the post at Downing Street as a caretaker leader until a new premier is elected.
Boris Johnson once again came top of the second ballot, with 126 votes, 12 more than in the first round, with former Brexit secretary Dominic Raab falling three short of the required 33 votes to be officially out of the race now.
With the former UK foreign secretary a clear frontrunner in the race to replace Theresa May, the contest now mainly revolves around the second most popular candidate.
Cabinet ministers Jeremy Hunt and Michael Gove are seen as the lead contenders for that second spot to take on Johnson, with home secretary Sajid Javid trailing behind.
International development secretary Rory Stewart, who was placed last in the first secret ballot of Tory MPs last week, is widely seen as the underdog in the contest as he now overtook Raab to stay in the running.
He has built up some momentum since the first vote and got a boost to his campaign with the endorsement of Cabinet Office Minister David Lidington.
Those remaining in the race will then take part in a crucial live BBC debate in central London on Tuesday evening, when they will field questions from the British public.
The remaining candidates will face a further ballot later this week, where the bottom-ranked MPs will be knocked out until only two candidates are left.
The final two names will then be put to a postal vote of the 160,000 Tory party members, beginning Thursday, with the winner expected to be announced around four weeks later by July 22.
Johnson topped the first ballot earlier this month with 114 votes, with foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt second with 43 votes and environment secretary Michael Gove third with 37.
Raab, who received 27 votes, and Pakistani-origin Sajid Javid, who received 23, had claimed the required 33-vote minimum mark is within their reach for round two.
Last-placed Stewart, who received 19 votes in the first ballot, said he had the necessary numbers to stay in the race “if they do what they say”.
By the end of the week, four of the five current riders will be forced out, leaving the final two to go head-to-head for votes from the Tory grassroots.
Each of the candidates have been laying out their strategy for Britain’s exit from the European Union (EU) and future plans for the UK economy.
Johnson has maintained low media visibility in the campaign so far, relying on his clear lead, and has attracted criticism from his rivals.
However, he has been consistently picking up support from other Tory MPs including health secretary Matt Hancock, who withdrew from the leadership race after the first round of voting.