The UK leadership race narrowed to five on Tuesday as Brexit figurehead Boris Johnson prepared to defend his runaway favourite status in his first television debate.
Johnson expanded his lead over his remaining rivals in a second secret ballot held by 313 lawmakers from the ruling Conservative party in the lower House of Commons.
The former foreign minister and London mayor picked up 126 votes while former Brexit minister Dominic Raab got knocked out after falling three short of the 33-vote threshold.
Moderate international development minister Rory Stewart continued his against-the-odds challenge by expanding his support base from last week’s 19 to 37.
Foreign Minister Jeremy Huntpicked up 46 votes and environment minister Michael Gove 41. Interior minister Sajid Javidscraped through with exactly 33.
Britain is frantically searching for a leader after Prime Minister Theresa May stepped down last month as Conservative party chief over her repeated failure to deliver Brexit.
The island nation is now due to split away from the other 27 European Union member states on October 31.
But how and when the chaos paralysing UK politics — and frightening business leaders — ultimately resolves itself may only be decided by who becomes the next prime minister.
Further rounds of voting scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday will whittle the list of contenders down to just two.
The finalists will face the ruling party’s 160,000 grassroots members in a vote next month to decide the winner.