Tory leadership: MPs to choose final two candidates
Conservative MPs are due to choose the two men who will contest the final stage of their leadership race later.
The remaining field of four candidates will be whittled down to three in another secret ballot, with the result expected at about 13.00 BST.
There will then be a further vote to select the final two, one of whom will be elected leader by party members.
Boris Johnson topped Wednesday’s third ballot with 143 votes, ahead of Jeremy Hunt, Michael Gove and Sajid Javid.
International Development Secretary Rory Stewart was knocked out of the contest on Wednesday evening, after he secured the backing of just 27 Tory MPs.
Mr Johnson is almost certain to make the run-off of 160,000 or so Conservative members who will elect the next Tory leader – and prime minister – in a postal ballot, starting next week.
But the race to join the former foreign secretary in the final two remains too close to call.
Mr Hunt, the foreign secretary, led Mr Gove by just three votes in the third round of voting, with 54 and 51 supporters respectively.
Home Secretary Sajid Javid was in fourth place with 38 votes.
He has insisted he will not pull out of the race and it is all to play for. His camp is hoping to attract backers of Mr Stewart.
Mr Javid’s campaign manager, Tory MP Robert Halfon, said the home secretary was “the outsider” but that he had support from across the party and was also picking up votes from former supporters of other candidates.
Mr Stewart has not yet said who he will endorse.
The BBC’s political editor Laura Kuenssberg said there were all kinds of possibilities regarding potential alliances and pacts between the candidates chasing Mr Johnson.
Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd – who backs Mr Hunt – told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme she was not “resigned” to Mr Johnson becoming prime minister.
“We haven’t seen much of Boris,” she said, adding that there were 16 hustings coming up over three weeks, with plenty of opportunities for members to decide who would be the best prime minister and “not just a good campaigner”.
Former Brexit Secretary David Davis, who is now backing Mr Johnson after initially supporting eliminated candidate Dominic Raab, told Today Mr Johnson would be a “very good prime minister”.
He said he was lending his support as Mr Johnson had assured him the UK would leave the EU on 31 October under his premiership.