Conservative leadership: Boris Johnson or Jeremy Hunt to become next UK prime minister

Michael Gove and Sajid Javid knocked out of race to replace Theresa May

FILE - In this two photo file combo image, Jeremy Hunt, left, and Boris Johnson, right, who are the final two contenders for leadership of the Conservative Party, Thursday June 20, 2019. Following elimination votes Britain's Conservative Party members will vote for the final two contenders with the winner due to replace Prime Minister Theresa May as party leader and prime minister. (AP Photo FILE/Matt Dunham, Frank Augstein)
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Boris Johnson or Jeremy Hunt will become Britain’s next prime minister after a fourth round of voting knocked Michael Gove out of the Conservative Party leadership race.

Clear frontrunner Mr Johnson, a former foreign secretary and mayor of London, extended his lead from an earlier ballot, with 160 of the votes cast by 313 MPs in the fifth round of the contest.

Mr Hunt, the Foreign Secretary, received 77 votes, beating Environment Minister Mr Gove, who came second in the fourth ballot, by just two votes.

The final two contenders will go to a mail ballot of 160,000 grassroots party members nationwide, with the winner being announced on July 22.

Earlier on Thursday, Home Secretary Sajid Javid was knocked out of the contest after coming fourth in an earlier vote by MPs.

Mr Javid, who did not openly endorse any of his rivals, said that there were “challenging times ahead for our party and our government”.

Whoever becomes the next prime minister will have to take on the task that departing premier Theresa May failed to accomplish – leaving the EU.

Both candidates have said they believe it is possible to renegotiate the divorce deal Mrs May agreed to with Brussels, which was rejected three times by Britain’s Parliament.

Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar sent a message to the leadership candidates on Thursday, warning that "the withdrawal agreement is not going to be reopened".

But Mr Johnson and Mr Hunt have said they would be prepared to leave the world’s largest trading bloc without a deal.

Outside Parliament on Thursday was the normal haphazard groups of people with political axes to grind.

Those on opposite sides of the Brexit debate were joined by the occasional commentator on the Conservative leadership debate.

At the heavily guarded entrance gates to Westminster, one man was dressed  as a clown with a Boris Johnson mask.

He held a sign that said three of the former London mayor’s policy priorities were "me," "me" and "more me".

The fourth alluded to the potentially catastrophic economic effects of a no-deal Brexit and Mr Johnson’s refusal to take it off the table.

By mid-afternoon, Parliament was quiet between the fourth and fifth ballots.

The ill-attended debate in the House of Commons over a judicial issue did were in contrast to Westminster, where campaign managers tried to grab the last votes for their candidates.

High-profile MPs moved fast, bustling from room to room and avoiding the occasional tourist or schoolchildren.