Boris Johnson takes strong lead in race for next United Kingdom leader

Chancellor Philip Hammond arrives for the Cabinet meeting on Wednesday

Philip Hammond accuses Boris Johnson of 'driving UK off a cliff-edge'

Britain's Boris Johnson, who has pledged to deliver Brexit on October 31, has surged ahead in the first Conservative Party ballot destined to decide who will replace Prime Minister Theresa May.

Candidates need to secure 33 votes in the second ballot on Tuesday in order to continue in the contest.

Seven contenders remain in the contest to succeed Theresa May as party leader and prime minister, including Jeremy Hunt, the foreign affairs minister, and Environment Minister Michael Gove, and former Brexit minister Dominic Raab.

In all, 313 party MPs cast their votes, organisers of the election announced in the House of Commons.

If Johnson does not lose votes next week, he is guaranteed a place in the final two.

Those two candidates will then face a straight vote by the party's grassroots members, with the victor announced towards the end of July.

Speaking after the results were announced, Mr Hunt said: "Boris did well today but what the result shows is, when it comes to the members' stage, I'm the man to take him on".

Hunt and Gove are widely seen as going head-to-head for votes from the more moderate wing of the party which favours a softer line on Brexit negotiations with the European Union. A new prime minister should be chosen by the end of July.

On Johnson's commitment to leaving the European Union by the current deadline, Hunt - who won the votes of 43 MPs, less than 15% of the party - said: "His hard stop on 31 October is effectively saying that the best we can offer the country is either a no-deal Brexit or a general election".

The former London mayor and foreign secretary said he was "delighted" to win the opening battle but warned that his campaign still had "a long way to go". But he is taking flak from other candidates as the only one yet to confirm he will take part in Sunday's Channel 4 debate.

Andrea Leadsom, Esther McVey and Mark Harper didn't receive enough votes to progress and were eliminated from the contest. "I will now look for the best way to advance the values we fought for". Matt Hancock won 20 votes and Rory Stewart 19.

When questioned on the ability to prepare for no deal over the short period of time before the 31 October cliff edge, Javid admitted that a no-deal Brexit would be "very challenging" for the country, that it would depend on tax stimulus and supply-side stimulus and may lead to job losses.

It will take several weeks to conclude the ballots after a series of votes whittles down the hopefuls to just two contenders. "This serious moment calls for a serious leader", a scarcely veiled swipe at Johnson's reputation for embarrassing blunders and often offensive language. The victor, due to be announced in late July, will become Conservative leader and prime minister.

"If Boris Johnson dared to lock the doors of parliament, we would bring him down", Stewart said.

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