Who falls first? Tory leader election vote opens, with Rory Stewart revealed as 'surprise contender'

Andy Wells
Freelance Writer

Tory MPs have voted in the first ballot to find the next Prime Minister - with outsider Rory Stewart emerging as a surprise contender with party members.

Mr Stewart has managed to push big-hitters like Jeremy Hunt and Michael Gove out of the way in a survey of party members - who have the final say over who will be the next inhabitant of Number 10.

According to Conservative Home, Mr Stewart is now in second place of the preferred candidate to be the next leader, with 12% of the vote.

The first ballot of Tory leadership hopefuls will see at least one removed from the contest (PA)

However, his surprise placing still puts him a massive 41 points behind Boris Johnson, who remains the runaway favourite and overwhelming choice of Conservative members.

It is Tory MPs who will ultimately decide on who makes it through to the final two - where members then have a say.

Former Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab sits in third place (8%), while Jeremy Hunt - thought to be the favourite to be in the final two against Mr Johnson - sits in fifth place on 7%.

Rory Stewart is now in second place to Boris Johnson among Tory members over who they want as the new leader (AP)

Mr Stewart, whose Twitter videos during the campaign have made him a popular outsider, still needs to secure at least 17 votes in today’s secret ballot if he is to go through to the second round.

The surprising survey may see some MPs give him their backing to get him through.

Anyone below the 17-vote threshold will be automatically eliminated today. If all the candidates meet the target, the one with the lowest number of votes overall will still have to exit the race.

Boris Johnson is seen as the favourite to win the contest (AP)

Mr Johnson remains the runaway favourite to win the whole contest but successful leadership pitches from rivals Sajid Javid and Mr Hunt will ramp up the pressure on the former London Mayor.

Mr Johnson launched his bid with a warning to MPs that they will "reap the whirlwind" if they try to thwart Brexit - and said it was essential that Britain was out of the EU by the end of October.

But Mr Javid dismissed the former Foreign Secretary as "yesterday's news", saying the party needed to show it had changed.

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Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt began the day with a baffling tweet comparing the first ballot to his own wedding.

Former Commons leader Andrea Leadsom insisted she was "very optimistic" about the ballot, and said she thought that she had the support to get through Thursday's vote - despite a relatively low number of public endorsements.

She told ITV's Peston: "There's a whole range of colleagues who for one reason or another don't want to declare for one candidate or another and I'm very optimistic about tomorrow.

"But tomorrow's a big day, and we'll see some real facts tomorrow - before then it's all just speculation.”

The timetable of the Tory leadership contest (PA)
Jeremy Hunt is thought to be the man most likely to challenge Mr Johnson in the final vote (PA)

Former chief whip Mark Harper, ex-work and pensions secretary Esther McVey and International Development Secretary Rory Stewart may also struggle to get over the line on Thursday.

Mr Harper said: "I'm confident about getting through tomorrow based on the feedback that I've had from my colleagues, from my campaign launch yesterday and the various hustings that we've had.”

The majority for the leadership hopefuls at the last election (PA)
Rory Stewart has struggled to win support with MPs but has proved popular on Twitter (PA)

Meanwhile, Mr Johnson had an unexpected boost for his campaign of leaving the EU with or without a deal on Wednesday after Labour’s attempt to block no-deal was voted down.

The cross-party motion, which would have enabled MPs to take control of the business of the House on June 25, was defeated by 309 to 298 - a majority of 11.

Ten Tories - including Ken Clarke, Sir Oliver Letwin, Justine Greening and Dominic Grieve - supported the motion, but eight Labour MPs voted against.

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