Boris Johnson, Jeremy Hunt and Michael Gove will face fifth vote to decide final two candidates later on Thursday
Sajid Javid has become the latest candidate to exit the Conservative party leadership race, with the home secretary coming last in the fourth round of voting by Tory MPs, behind Boris Johnson, Michael Gove and Jeremy Hunt.
With all 313 MPs again casting votes, Johnson was once more the clear winner, on 157 votes, with Gove overtaking Hunt into second place, with 61 votes to 59. Javid was fourth on 34 votes. All 313 MPs voted but two ballots were spoiled.
The focus now shifts to a fifth and final round of votes, in which the final two will be selected, who will be put to a vote of Conservative party members. In effect, this will be a run-off between Gove and Hunt for the right to face Johnson. The result will come at 6pm.
The final two will then undertake a long series of hustings events with party members around the country before the winner takes over from Theresa May as Tory leader and prime minister on 22 July.
In a tweeted statement, Javid said he was proud to have made the case for being a party that heals divisions, protects our precious union, embraces modern Britain, and brings Conservative values to new audiences, and that my team have navigated this contest in an honest, decent and straightforward way.
Javid said he hoped his candidacy could be an example to kids who look and feel a bit different to their classmates, those who dont have as many toys, or private tutors, those who feel like outsiders and wonder whether opportunity is just for other people.
In a boost to Gove, the Scottish Conservative leader, Ruth Davidson, who had been backing Javid, said she would now switch her support to him.
Gove said he was absolutely delighted to come second. The environment secretary tweeted: Its all to play for in the final ballot this afternoon. If I make the final two I look forward to having a civilised debate of ideas about the future of our country.
A member of his camp said: We are in a strong position to make the final two, where we can have a civilised debate in the country.
The result is a blow for Hunt, with backers of the foreign secretary seeking to immediately rally support for him. Penny Mordaunt, the defence secretary, said Hunt being in the final two would avoid the drama of a new showdown between Johnson and Gove, who fell out over the 2016 leadership battle.
That doesnt necessarily mean the best entertainment for journalists, but for people who are going to focus on the issues, the policies, and set out a vision for the party, she said.
A source in the Hunt camp said: Boris and Michael are great candidates but we have seen their personal psychodrama before: its time to offer the country someone the EU will actually talk to.
One of the challenges for Johnson will be to convince Tory members he is serious about making Brexit happen on 31 October.
On Thursday, Johnson was formally endorsed by Londons Evening Standard, edited by the remain-backing former chancellor, George Osborne, with an editorial in the newspaper predicting that Johnson would end up persuading the Commons to vote for a repacked version of the existing deal.
In a verdict unlikely to go down well among hard Brexiters or Johnsons camp the editorial noted that he had pointedly not completely guaranteed an exit on 31 October, and was the candidate with the most room to manoeuvre.
Theresa May is travelling to Brussels for a European council summit and will miss the second vote. She has entrusted a proxy vote to Charles Walker, the acting co-chair of the 1922 Committee of Tory backbenchers, which is organising the contest.
During the two-hour voting process, Javid arrived with a series of MPs who have supported him and they posed for a photo in the corridor near the committee room 14, where the voting took place. Javid told reporters he was hopeful of progressing.
His exit from the race follows that of Rory Stewart, the international development minister, in the third round of voting on Wednesday.
In the previous round, Dominic Raab came last and went out. Esther McVey, Mark Harper and Andrea Leadsom failed to reach the necessary vote threshold in the first round, while the health secretary, Matt Hancock, later withdrew.
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