Boris Johnson versus Jeremy Hunt for next British PM

British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, left, and former British Foreign Secretary are seen in this file combo picture. — AFP

LONDON — Boris Johnson will take on Jeremy Hunt in the final two of the race to become Britain's next prime minister after Michael Gove was narrowly eliminated on Thursday.

Former London mayor Johnson topped the fifth ballot of MPs in the governing Conservative Party with 160 votes, ahead of Foreign Secretary Hunt on 77 and Environment Secretary Gove on 75.

The center-right party's 160,000 grassroots members will now pick their new leader from the final two, who will then take over from Theresa May as prime minister in late July.

"I'm deeply honored to have secured more than 50 percent of the vote in the final ballot," Johnson said on Twitter.

"I look forward to getting out across the UK and to set out my plan to deliver Brexit, unite our country, and create a brighter future for all of us."

Gove said he was "disappointed" but proud of his campaign.

He said: "It's been an honor to be able to set out a vision for the future of our great country. Many congratulations to Boris and Jeremy!"

All 313 Conservative MPs voted, including May by proxy as she was at a European Union summit in Brussels. Only one ballot paper was rejected.

Johnson racked up more than half of the total votes and is the runaway favorite to succeed May.

Ten candidates were nominated for the leadership and the party has whittled them down to two over the past week.

In Thursday's earlier fourth ballot, interior minister Sajid Javid was eliminated but Gove overtook Hunt for the first time to claim second place.

Hunt replaced Johnson as foreign secretary when he quit the government in July 2018 over May's Brexit strategy.

The two will face 16 hustings around the country, while televised debates between the pair will also be discussed with broadcasters.

Brexit will dominate the debates, with Britain due to leave the European Union on Oct. 31.

Johnson has said Britain must leave on time, with or without a deal — although in recent days he has been less categorical.

Hunt is prepared to delay the exit date if a deal is within sight, but is otherwise prepared to pull Britain out of the bloc without a divorce deal.

The new Conservative party leader will be declared in the week beginning July 22, and will then take over from May in Downing Street.

MPs are due to go on their six-week summer break on July 25, meaning they may get a chance to question the new prime minister before the recess. — AFP