Johnson leads pack in PM replacement vote

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Boris Johnson speaks at a Conservative home fringe meeting on day three of the Conservatives Party annual conference 2018 in Birmingham, Britain on Oct. 2, 2018. (Xinhua/Han Yan)

LONDON (AFP) – Brexit figurehead Boris Johnson came top by a landslide in a first-round vote on Thursday for a leader to replace British Prime Minister Theresa May as the deadline for leaving the EU looms.

In the ballot of Conservative MPs, former London mayor Johnson secured more than twice the number of votes won by his nearest challengers as three of the 10 candidates were eliminated.

The outcome of the leadership battle could determine under what conditions Britain exits the European Union. It is scheduled to leave on October 31.

Johnson secured 114 votes, way ahead of Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, a distant second on 43, and third-placed Environment Secretary Michael Gove with 37.

“I am delighted to win the first ballot, but we have a long way to go,” Johnson said as he thanked his supporters.

Thursday’s secret ballot was Conservative MPs’ first vote in the governing party’s leadership contest. The eventual winner will become prime minister.

Johnson spearheaded the Leave campaign in the seismic 2016 referendum vote to quit the EU. He wants to secure a deal by the deadline but says as a last resort he would leave the bloc without a formal agreement between London and Brussels.

Opponents of “no-deal” say it would cause economic chaos as Britain breaks up with its top trading partners.

Hunt said he was pleased with his showing.

“We face a crucial choice: who can negotiate some better choices than the bad ones we face. The stakes have rarely been higher for our country. This serious moment calls for a serious leader,” he said.

Former Brexit minister Dominic Raab (27), interior minister Sajid Javid (23), health minister Matt Hancock (20) and international development minister Rory Stewart (19) also secured the 17 votes needed to survive the cut.

Andrea Leadsom (11), Mark Harper (10) and Esther McVey (nine) fell below the threshold.

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