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‘I’m surprised’: Stewart eliminated from Tory contest with Brexit warning

Defeated Conservative leadership contender Rory Stewart has warned the four remaining candidates against promises they "can't deliver" after being eliminated from the contest.

The international development secretary saw his bid to become the UK's next prime minister come to an end after he finished bottom of the latest ballot of Tory MPs.

Frontrunner Boris Johnson – on his 55th birthday – was again the best-supported candidate with 143 votes, with Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt second on 54, Environment Secretary Michael Gove third on 51 and Home Secretary Sajid Javid fourth on 38.

Conservative leadership debate – be in the audience

Conservative leadership debate – be in the audience

Sky News is planning to host a live leadership debate between the final two contenders to replace Theresa May as Conservative leader, and you could be in the audience.

Mr Stewart lost the votes of 10 MPs between Tuesday's second round and the third ballot, in which he was backed by just 27 MPs.

He told Sky News he was "surprised" by his loss of support, adding: "I don't understand.

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"You'll have to ask MPs who switched, but something in the air must have made them sense that something else was going in another direction.

"Conversations must have been had overnight and throughout the day."

More from Conservative Leadership Election 2019

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  • Conservative Party leadership candidates on tax, Brexit and climate change

  • Johnson may yet get away with his Brexit plan

  • Conservative leadership race: Contenders clash in fractious TV debate

  • Tory leadership race still wide open as hardest Brexiteer is ousted

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Moment Rory Stewart knocked out of race

Mr Johnson, Mr Hunt, Mr Gove and Mr Javid will now face a fourth ballot of Tory MPs on Thursday morning, with a possible fifth ballot being held in the afternoon – if needed – to whittle the field down to a final pair.

Prior to Wednesday's ballot, Mr Stewart was the only remaining leadership candidate to have ruled out a no-deal Brexit and the only to argue Theresa May's existing EU withdrawal agreement could not be renegotiated with Brussels.

In a warning to those four candidates still left in the race for 10 Downing Street, he said: "My judgement, my professional, considered judgement, is that what I said is true.

"We will now see, between now and the end of October, whether people can deliver what they promised and 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."

The battle between Mr Johnson, Mr Hunt, Mr Gove and Mr Javid to win over Mr Stewart's supporters to their campaign has now begun.

Rory Stewart: Tory MPs decided to back a winner

Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd, who is supporting Mr Hunt, was set to host a dinner on Wednesday night to convince Mr Stewart's backers to give their votes to the foreign secretary.

But Mr Stewart himself was tight-lipped on who he might support, saying: "I'm not leaning in any direction at the moment."

With Mr Johnson enjoying a clear lead among Tory MPs – although not yet backed by half of the Conservative benches – the other three remaining candidates face fighting it out to be his final challenger in a postal ballot of around 160,000 Conservative party members – the last stage of the contest.

Mr Hunt noted how he has finished second behind Mr Johnson in all three ballots of MPs so far.

He posted on Twitter: "If I make it to the final I will put my heart & soul into giving him the contest of his life: in politics today the unexpected often happens.

"The stakes too high to allow anyone to sail through untested."

Three times now MPs have chosen me as the person best-paced to take on Boris. If I make it to the final I will put my heart & soul into giving him the contest of his life: in politics today the unexpected often happens. The stakes too high to allow anyone to sail through untested

— Jeremy Hunt (@Jeremy_Hunt) June 19, 2019

Mr Gove said he was "delighted" to have picked up the votes of 10 more MPs to close the gap on Mr Hunt, as he promised a "contest of ideas".

Meanwhile, despite finishing fourth in Wednesday's ballot, Mr Javid insisted he would not withdraw from the contest before the next round.

He told Sky News: "I'm in this to win it. I'm not pulling out, I'm going to carry on going as long as I have the support of my colleagues.

"I'm not thinking about getting knocked out, I'm thinking about winning."

Asked whether he could back Mr Johnson in return for becoming Chancellor in a Johnson government, Mr Javid added: "I'm going to stick to trying to become prime minister because that's what this country needs."

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