Brexit figurehead Boris Johnson yesterday was looking to cement his stranglehold of the UK leadership race after emerging unscathed from a TV debate against his four remaining rivals.
The former British secretary of state for foreign and Commonwealth affairs kept his cool and made no evident stumbles in a showdown that followed a second-round ballot in which he grabbed more votes than his three nearest challengers combined.
Johnson had ducked out of the first TV debate on Sunday and has carefully stage-managed his media engagements in a contest that remains his to lose.
He cast himself on Tuesday as the one politician able to bring the UK successfully out of the EU and therefore deliver the Brexit that voters called for three years ago.
“We must come out on Oct, 31 because otherwise I’m afraid we face a catastrophic loss of confidence in politics,” said Johnson in the hour-long BBC question-and-answer session with voters. “I think the British people are thoroughly fed up.”
However, neither he nor the others raised their hands when asked by the BBC to do so if they could “guarantee” that Brexit would happen by Oct. 31.
The field was to narrow to four when the 313 Conservatives Party lawmakers in the House of Commons held their third secret ballot yesterday.
Tuesday’s surprisingly even-tempered debate did little to alter a growing sense that Johnson would need to make an error of monumental proportions not to win at this stage.
The Guardian called Johnson’s performance “sober and sensible.”
“Still the clear front-runner, still almost certainly the next PM,” it wrote.
Johnson picked up 126 of the 313 Conservative lawmakers’ votes cast on Tuesday.
British Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs Jeremy Hunt won 46 votes and British Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Michael Gove 41.
Moderate British Secretary of State for International Development Rory Stewart continued his against-the-odds challenge by nearly doubling his support base to 37.
British Home Secretary Sajid Javid scraped through with exactly the 33 required to make the third round.
The UK is frantically searching for a leader after British Prime Minister Theresa May announced she would step down as Conservative Party leader on June 7 over her repeated failure to deliver Brexit on time.
Her successor would be saddled with both resolving the kingdom’s deepest political crisis in generations and setting the terms of how it deals with the rest of Europe for decades to come.
An additional two rounds of voting today is to whittle the list of contenders down to just two.
The finalists face the ruling party’s 160,000 grassroots members in a vote next month.
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