Rory Stewart becomes latest candidate to be knocked out of Tory leadership race
Rory Stewart has become the latest candidate to be knocked out of the race to be the next Tory leader.
The International Development Secretary came bottom in the third ballot of Conservative MPs with 27 votes, 11 behind Sajid Javid on 38.
But runaway leader Boris Johnson further consolidated his advantage over the chasing pack with 143 votes, 17 more than he secured in Tuesday's ballot.
Foreign Secretary Jerermy Hunt came second with 54 votes, followed by Environment Secretary Michael Gove, who won the backing of 51 of his colleagues.
It means there is now a three-way battle in the race to come second and face Mr Johnson in the final run-off, when the Conservatives' 160,000 members will decide who the next Prime Minister will be.
Mr Stewart is the sixth candidate to be eliminated in the fight for Number 10, following Dominic Raab, Matt Hancock, Esther McVey, Mark Harper and Andrea Leadsom.
Mr Johnson saw the biggest surge in support for his campaign since yesterday. He said: "Thank you once again to friends and colleagues for your support in the third ballot - especially on my birthday!
"We’ve come a long way but we have much further to go."
Mr Raab, who received 30 votes in Tuesday's ballot, declared his backing for his fellow Brexiteer Mr Johnson earlier on Wednesday.
The next ballot will take place on Thursday morning, with the result announced at 1pm.
If another ballot is required to reduce the number of candidates to two, it will take place on Thursday afternoon and the result will be announced at 6pm.
Reacting to his elimination, Mr Stewart said: "I am so moved & inspired by the support I have received over the last few weeks - it has given me a new faith in politics, a new belief in our country.
"I didn’t get enough MPs to believe today - but they will. I remain deeply committed to you and to this country."
Asked where his 10 votes went, he said he had “absolutely no idea”.
'BIGGEST COMPETITION OUT OF RACE'
One MP joked to reporters in the room: “That’s what you get when you take your tie off!”
Another suggested that Michael Gove had lent Mr Stewart votes yesterday to help get him into the BBC debate and today took them all back.
“Either that or they just thought his performance was as ridiculous as I did,” they said.
One MP who had backed Mr Stewart said they thought “Boris’ biggest competition is out of the race.”
Meanwhile, a spokesman for Sajid Javid was bullish about his chances, saying he had been “underestimated all his life”, and he was not going to be pulling out of the race.
“He’s in it to win it,” he added. “And he’s going to be Prime Minister.”
On the issue of votes being lended to Mr Javid, they added: “He’s never borrowed anything from anybody in his life.”
The spokesperson said the Home Secretary was “the only candidate with a clear plan to unite leave and remain MPs.”
A Jeremy Hunt campaign spokesman said: "Three times now the Party has endorsed Jeremy as the candidate to take on Boris.
"This was a fantastic result that shows the strength of our campaign.
"We are really encouraged to have finished second again and to have gained so much support.
"If colleagues choose Jeremy, he will put his heart and soul into giving Boris the contest of his life.
"The stakes are too high to allow anyone to sail through untested."