Boris Johnson Is One Step Closer To No. 10 Downing Street

As Conservative MP's continue winnowing down the list of candidates for party leader, Boris Johnson remains the overwhelming leader. However, a surprise challenger may be on his heels.

Boris Johnson is one step closer to becoming the leader of the Conservative Party, and the next Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. after the second round of voting by Conservative Members of Parliament:

LONDON — The United Kingdom came one step closer to finding out who its next prime minister will be Tuesday after the ruling Conservative Party chose its final five front-runners in the fight to replace Theresa May.

Boris Johnson, the New York-born former mayor of London, remains the overwhelming favorite to succeed May. He secured the votes of 126 out of 313 Conservative members of Parliament in what was the second round of the internal party election.

Though their chances are slight, four others — all male, and all ministers in May’s government — are also still in the running.

Officially, the contest will decide who is the next leader of the Conservative Party. By a quirk of the U.K.’s political system, that person will also become the next prime minister — no general election is needed.

First, Conservative lawmakers in the House of Commons vote in successive rounds until only two candidates remain. These final two enter a runoff decided by some 120,000 Conservative Party members.

May was toppled because she was unable to get her Brexit deal through Parliament. It’s far from clear that any of her would-be successors have a workable plan to succeed where she failed.

The contenders at this point are as follows:

  • Boris Johnson, who received 126 votes from Conservative MP’s in the second race, an increase of 12 votes from the first round;
  • Jeremy Hunt, who received 46 votes, an increase of 3 votes;
  • Michael Gove, who received 41 votes, an increase of 4 votes;
  • Rory Stewart, who received 37 votes, an increase of 18 votes;
  • Sajid Javid, who received 33 votes, an increase of 10 votes; and.
  • Dominic Raab, who received 30 votes, an increase of 3 votes.

Since only the top five vote-getters advances to today’s next round, Raab is eliminated. NBC News has profiles of the five remaining contenders, and The New York Times notes that the last minute rise of Stewart is something of a surprise:

LONDON — The juggernaut rolled on for Britain’s former foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, on Tuesday when he widened his already dominant lead among Conservative lawmakers in the second of several ballots to choose a leader destined to become the country’s next prime minister.

But Mr. Johnson, the front-runner and a hard-line Brexit supporter, received an unexpected jolt when his most vocal critic, the maverick international development secretary, Rory Stewart, survived the ballot, keeping him — against all odds at the outset of the contest — in the race.

Written off as a no-hoper, Mr. Stewart is now the challenger with momentum, thanks to an unorthodox campaign that has reached out to centrist opinion, raising issues uncomfortable for many Conservative lawmakers and supporters. For one thing, Mr. Stewart has promised not to serve in a government led by Mr. Johnson, who is a divisive figure, and has felt free to question his reliability and grip of detail

In the latest ballot, Mr. Johnson received 126 votes, ahead of Jeremy Hunt, the current foreign secretary with 46, Michael Gove, the environment secretary with 41, Mr. Stewart with 37, Sajid Javid, the home secretary with 33, and Dominic Raab, a former Brexit secretary with 30.

Mr. Raab was eliminated from the contest ahead of the next ballot, which is scheduled for Wednesday.

Under the party’s rules the top two contenders will be chosen by 313 Conservative lawmakers by the end of Thursday at the latest, with the final decision being made by the party’s 150,000 or so activists, who are mainly right-wing and disproportionately aging and pro-Brexit.

So by rights, Mr. Stewart, who refuses to countenance the economic gamble of leaving the European Union without an agreement with the bloc, and who defends a Brexit plan already rejected by Parliament three times, should be dead in the water.

Instead, he appears to be picking up votes from those who, like him, doubt Mr. Johnson’s suitability for the post of prime minister.

Both men share the same elite education at Eton College, Britain’s most famous private school, and Balliol College at Oxford University, but their politics are far apart.

Charismatic, entertaining and often shambolic, Mr. Johnson was the figurehead for the Leave forces in the 2016 Brexit referendum that triggered three years and counting of political turmoil.

Most analysts think that, with the Conservatives now facing a fierce challenge from the right in Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party, Mr. Johnson’s campaign is unstoppable. His hard-line stance on Brexit equips him to take on Mr. Farage’s new right-wing insurgents, and Mr. Johnson’s campaigning skills also make him the man to beat the leader of the opposition Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, the argument goes.

If he can make the shortlist of two, something that now seems assured, Mr. Johnson should have one foot in Downing Street. He is wildly popular among Conservative Party activists who will make the final choice and who desperately want to leave the European Union as soon as possible. Mr. Johnson promises that Britain will leave on Oct. 31 when the next Brexit deadline expires, although he is rather vague as to how this would happen.

For Mr. Stewart, who was promoted to the cabinet only last month, even to make it to the final shortlist of two would be a spectacular achievement, yet his prospects are growing, according to the bookmakers.

While other contenders have been more inclined in recent days to temper criticism of Mr. Johnson — probably calculating that they will want a cabinet job from him soon — Mr. Stewart has gone the other way.

He worries that Mr. Johnson has somehow won the support both of lawmakers determined to leave the European Union at the end of October — with or without a deal — and of those who oppose quitting without any agreement. That, he says, suggests that Mr. Johnson is making very different promises to different people, something that could come back to haunt him in office.

Mr. Stewart has had his own awkward moments. When asked on Monday whether he had worked for the British intelligence agency MI6, he replied “no.” Subsequently, however, he was forced to admit that, had he done so, he would not be permitted to admit it publicly.

The son of a senior British intelligence officer, Mr. Stewart was briefly a tutor to Prince William and Prince Harry before becoming a diplomat. He walked 6,000 miles alone across Iran, Pakistan and part of Afghanistan, and wrote a well-received book, “The Places in Between.”
Other contenders have largely run conventional campaigns, lobbying lawmakers in Parliament, staging news conferences, promising tax cuts and appearing for the seemingly obligatory pictures in jogging gear.

But Mr. Stewart has tried to appeal to voters through social media and walking tours, and made a virtue of his honesty in admitting that extracting Britain from the European Union is a difficult task with no easy answers.

While he has no particularly persuasive solution to the Brexit riddle that defeated Prime Minister Theresa May, he at least acknowledges the fact, deriding other contenders who argue that it might be necessary to suspend Parliament in order to do so.

If he manages to make it through the next two days of voting by Conservative Members of Parliament, then Stewart will not only have completed an unlikely political task but he will provide the voters of the party with a distinct contrast with Johnson, who is likely to maintain his first-place position. Whereas Johnson is bombastic and brash, Stewart appears to be more circumspect notwithstanding his younger age. It is on substance, though, where the contrast seems to be the starkest. Johnson has become an advocate for Brexit at all costs, even if means a no-deal “hard Brexit” that most analysts agree would be chaotic and harmful to the British economy at least in the short-term. Stewart, on the other hand, is apparently among those who still believes that a deal can be reached that will satisfy both the European Union’s negotiators and a sufficient number of members of the House of Commons to get a deal through, something that outgoing Prime Minister Theresa May utterly failed to do.

Regardless of who the final two contestants are when the voting reaches its end by the end of this week, it seems clear that Johnson will have the advantage in the wider poll of Conservative Party members. The members who are most likely to vote, as noted, consist of members who are pro-Brexit and likely to be attracted to Johnson’s promise to get the United Kingdom out of the European Union by the October 31st deadline no matter what the cost. Taking Stewart’s route, from their point of view, would seem to be a repeat of what May has been trying to accomplish, without success, for the better part of the year. Additionally, Johnson’s Brexit-at-all-costs position would appear to satisfy the concerns of party members concerned about the rise of Nigel Farage’s Brexit party. Arguably, getting Brexit taken care of would neutralize the reason for that party’s existence and the threat that it could pose to the Conservative Party in future elections.

In any case, we should know the outcome of this part of the race by the close of business on Thursday. After that, it will take roughly a month to hold the canvas of the wider party membership.

Update: The results of the Wednesday round of voting are in, and Rory Stewart is out of the running:

Four men are left in the race to be next prime minister after Rory Stewart was knocked out.

The international development secretary was eliminated after coming last with 27 votes, 10 fewer than last time.

He said his warnings about a no-deal Brexit “probably proved to be truths people weren’t quite ready to hear”.

Boris Johnson topped the vote again with 143 votes, 17 more than last time. Jeremy Hunt came second, with 54, narrowly ahead of Michael Gove with 51.

Sajid Javid also made it into the next round with 38 votes, five more than in round two.

A fourth round of voting will take place on Thursday.

At this point, it appears likely that Johnson will face either Hunt or Gove in the final round, and that he will do so after having received the overwhelming support of the party’s members in the House of Commons.

Update #2 (6/20/2019): Johnson remains the overwhelming leader after this morning’s fourth ballot, with Sajid Javid being eliminated. This leaves Johnson, Gove (who slid into a slight lead for second place) and Hunt as conservative MP’s head into the fifth and final round later today:

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Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook


  1. grumpy realist says:

    Ironically enough, I suspect that Boris is the one candidate who might actually do an Article 50 revocation or ask for Yet Another Extension while getting the FA passed. The man has no honour, but like all self-respecting weasels everywhere he probably realises that being the U.K. equivalent of the damn guy who hit the iceberg because he was too lazy to notice it was in the way is NOT a good way to go down in history. Which is what a “drop out with nothing planned Nov. 1st 2o19” boils down to.

  2. Kathy says:

    When Johnson wins, and it looks very likely, the real headline should be “Great Britain Publishes Suicide Note on the Front Page”

  3. SKI says:

    Proving the Brits are just as stupid in terms of selecting know-nothing con-men as we Americans.

  4. SKI says:

    @grumpy realist: Wishful thinking IMO.

  5. Gustopher says:

    They have the option of someone named Sajid Javid, and they are going with Boris Fvcking Johnson?

    I know nothing about Sajid Javid, other than the fact that his name rhymes and honestly even that might not be true, but can he possibly be worse?

  6. An Interested Party says:

    It’s amazing how many supposed “advanced” countries have people who seem to want clowns as their leaders…

  7. grumpy realist says:

    @SKI: Oh, the probability of the U.K. stumbling on a no-deal Brexit that they haven’t prepared for is still extremely high. I’m just saying that Johnson is the one of the mob who most likely to do a U-turn on Brexit since keeping his promises means absolutely nothing. The others I think are a little more tied to the promises they’ve been making to the Tory Party.

  8. Barry says:

    @grumpy realist: “..but like all self-respecting weasels everywhere he probably realises that being the U.K. equivalent of the damn guy who hit the iceberg because he was too lazy to notice it was in the way is NOT a good way to go down in history. ”

    IMHO, it’s been long clear that we don’t live in that world.

  9. grumpy realist says:

    Great comment from Richard North over at EUreferendum:

    The Oaf Johnson has been the shoo-in from the very start. We have no real idea what his Brexit policy is, and I doubt whether he does. The man is so wrapped up in telling potential supporters what they want to hear that he has probably lost track of what he has promised to whom.

  10. JohnSF says:

    And now it’s down to Johnson vs Hunt.
    And it’ll be Johnson, because the Conservative Party has gone insane.
    Bloody Tories.
    (And I speak as a conservative who is not a Conservative)

    Not that Hunt is that much better, policy wise, but at least he isn’t the epitome of ambition and mendacity that Johnson is.

    Good thing I’m not a betting man, because before this Spring I’d have given heavy odds on Johnson never making it past the MPs vote.

    Even now I suspect only a handful of them trust him; but they fear the membership if they don’t put him forward, and a sizable number think that he has the populist appeal to prevent a Farage/Brexit Party triumph if they have to face a general election without Brexit achieved.

    If only we didn’t have Corbyn and his coterie of Tankies and Trots dug in at Labour, the opposition could aim at a blasting clean through a divided Right.

    That’s the problem with FPTP Parliamentary systems: can cope with one major party going nuts, but two at once = core meltdown.

    (For the realities of the UK/EU negotiating relationship once again Sir Ivan Rogers in the Spectator is probably depressingly accurate.)

  11. Lit3Bolt says:

    I see the British Tories consider the Habsburg King Charles II as their only option.


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