Britain's Conservative Party lawmaker Boris Johnson gestures as he speaks during the official launch of his leadership campaign, in London, Wednesday June 12, 2019. Boris Johnson solidified his front-runner status in the race to become Britain's next prime minister on Tuesday, gaining backing from leading pro-Brexit lawmakers.(AP Photo/Frank Augstein)

Boris Johnson takes strong lead in race for next UK leader

June 13, 2019 - 8:38 am

LONDON (AP) — Boris Johnson took a commanding lead Thursday in the contest to become Britain's next prime minister, winning by far the largest share of support in first-round voting by Conservative Party lawmakers.

Johnson, a former foreign secretary and leading Brexit campaigner, secured 114 of the 313 votes cast in the round, which reduced the field of candidates from 10 to seven. His successor as foreign secretary, Jeremy Hunt, trailed with 43 votes, followed by Environment Secretary Michael Gove with 37.

Johnson thanked supporters and tweeted: "I am delighted to win the first ballot, but we have a long way to go."

The result exceeded the expectations of Johnson's team and makes him almost certain to be among the final two candidates who will be put to a vote of 160,000 party members nationwide. The winner will become Conservative leader and British prime minister.

Three candidates were eliminated. Lawmakers Esther McVey, Mark Harper and Andrea Leadsom all failed to reach the threshold of 17 votes needed to get to the next round.

The contest is dominated by the issue of Britain's stalled departure from the European Union, with all the contenders promising to succeed where May failed and lead the country out of the bloc.

Britain's EU departure was originally due to take place on March 29, but has been delayed to Oct. 31 because of the political deadlock in London.

Johnson vowed Wednesday that as prime minister he would "get Brexit done," either by renegotiating May's rejected Brexit deal or by leaving the EU on Oct. 31 without an agreement.

EU leaders are adamant that the agreement won't be altered, and economists warn that a no-deal departure would cause economic chaos for the U.K.

In addition to Johnson, Hunt and Gove, four other contenders remain in the race: ex-Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab, Home Secretary Sajid Javid, Health Secretary Matt Hancock and International Development Secretary Rory Stewart.

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Follow AP's full coverage of Brexit and the Conservative Party leadership race at: https://www.apnews.com/Brexit

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