Conservative leadership outsider Rory Stewart was booted out of the race to become the next Prime Minister last night as his support crumbled in the latest round of voting.
The international development secretary became a surprise contender in the battle to succeed Theresa May as Conservative leader, after vowing to continue with the Brexit deal already rejected three times by MPs.
Stewart adopted an unconventional approach to campaigning, focusing on speaking to members of the public as part of his #RoryWalks Twitter strategy.
He focused on that instead of putting all his energy into winning over the Conservative MPs whose support he needed to secure a spot in final round.
Ahead of the ballot, Stewart said his campaign was “on a knife edge”, but when the result was announced at just after 6pm it showed he was way off the pace, losing 10 votes compared to a vote just 24 hours earlier.
His 27 votes put him in last place, behind home secretary Sajid Javid, who secured 38 backers – up just five on Tuesday’s ballot. Despite finishing last, Javid’s campaign insisted he would fight today’s ballot.
Boris Johnson, the former foreign secretary, once again topped the poll, securing 143 votes yesterday – up 17 on the previous round.
The gap to finish in second position narrowed, with Johnson’s foreign
office successor Jeremy Hunt coming second with 54, up eight, while environment secretary Michael Gove put on 10 votes to finish with 51.
Conservative MPs will have two further ballots today to whittle the field down to just two candidates, who will then spend a month campaigning for votes from party members.
Speaking after he was eliminated, Stewart said he was “surprised” to see a drop in his vote, but admitted he was beginning to be seen as a divisive
figure in the party due to his attacks on Johnson’s Brexit strategy.
“Certainly that seems to be the feeling people have,” he said, adding: “I would say though you can’t unify a family or a party by sweeping things under the table – you have to bring things out into the open.”
In a dig at his former rivals’ plans for Brexit – with all the remaining candidates claiming they could renegotiate a withdrawal deal with Brussels – Stewart said: “We will now see between now and the end of October whether people can deliver what they’ve promised.
“My instinct is they can’t, and my instinct is it’s a risky thing to promise to do things to a party or a country that you can’t deliver.”
Stewart refused to say who he would be backing in the next round of votes.