Boris Johnson takes lead in race for British prime minister

Pro-Brexit activists in March but the Chancellor warned

The three clear front-runners after the first round of voting are Mr Johnson, Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt who got 42 votes and Environment Secretary Michael Gove who got 37.

Boris Johnson overwhelmingly won the first round of voting Thursday in the race to replace outgoing British Prime Minister Theresa May, with the field of candidates narrowed to seven from 10.

At the same time, members of the Conservative Party will receive ballot papers allowing them to choose which of the two names they would prefer as leader.

The battle will now be on between the remaining seven candidates to scoop up the trio's 20 votes.

Johnson kicked off his official campaign on Wednesday with a pledge to lead Britain out of the European Union on October 31 and a warning to his divided Conservative Party that "delay means defeat".

That's because with support from well over a third of Conservative MPs Boris Johnson already has enough votes to give him a place in the last two.

The former London mayor broke his silence to launch his campaign on Wednesday, saying he would only take Britain out of the European Union without a deal as a "last resort" as he promised to unify a country deeply divided over Brexit.

A cross-party effort to block a chaotic end to the 46-year partnership failed on Wednesday, potentially leaving more room for manoeuvre for a future premier. "I am delighted to win the first ballot, but we have a long way to go", Johnson said on Twitter.

One person Mrs May will probably not be voting for is for current favourite Boris Johnson, who launched several attacks on the PM's Brexit stance after quitting as Foreign Secretary a year ago.

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The contest so far has been dominated by revelations of Gove's past drug-taking and bickering over the best way to resolve the Brexit impasse.

But Thursday's voting revealed each candidate's current level of support.

After the next round of voting, the two most popular Tory MPs will be put to vote towards the end of his month - a victor is likely to be named on July 22.

McVey is pursuing a no-deal Brexit, arguing that the agreement struck by May keeps Britain too closely tied to the European Union, while Hancock is against no-deal.

Boris Johnson has positioned himself as the only politician certain to pass Brexit by the October 31 deadline.

"We can't risk going with someone who feels like the short-term, comfort-zone choice", the interior minister said, recounting his story of growing up in Britain as the son of Pakistani immigrants.

Former Brexit secretary Dominic Raab, who received 27 votes, said: "This campaign is just getting started and we've got a good base to build on".

Candidates needed at least 17 votes to go through to the second round, with anyone below the threshold automatically eliminated. The two will then face the second phase of the election, in which over 1.2 lakh members of the party will vote. May resigned as party leader earlier this month, and will depart as prime minister, after failing to sell lawmakers on an exit agreement.

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