Tories ditch hardest Brexiteer but race still wide open

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Conservative MPs have shown they have a taste for drama by booting out the hardest Brexiteer and keeping the “outsider’s outsider”.

Rory Stewart’s backers are already spinning his progress to the next round of this contest by just five votes as the start of a surge towards victory.

That it almost certainly isn’t.

Mr Stewart’s position on Brexit puts a ceiling on the amount of support he’ll get from MPs and party members.

If, by some near-miracle, he does make it through to the final two, he will surely be thumped by Eurosceptic grassroots members.

But that doesn’t mean this isn’t a hugely impressive achievement for the rank outsider.

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Conservative party leadership contender Rory Stewart
Image: The outsider’s outsider remains in the race

An unusual campaign, where he visited all parts of the country, speaking to voters and documenting it online, has helped his outsider image.

But it may well be the tantalising prospect of the vocal Boris Johnson critic going head to head with the frontrunner in tonight’s TV debate that won over the MPs.

So what about the frontrunner?

Increasing his tally to 126 votes, the Johnson Brexit battlewagon shows no sign of slowing – hoovering up votes right across the party and all but guaranteeing his place in the final ballot.

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Moment Raab knocked out of leadership race

But questions still hang over Mr Johnson’s Brexit strategy and because of that, Dominic Raab may be feeling somewhat bruised by his early ejection this evening.

Perhaps attempting to out-Brexit the biggest name of Brexit was never a winning strategy.

But Mr Raab, who had been open about his aims to renegotiate the existing Brexit deal, may also be feeling a little cheated by Boris Johnson’s somewhat unclear strategy to leave the EU.

So far, the former foreign secretary appears to be engaging his famed policy on cake – that is, “pro having it and pro eating it”.

Over the weekend he suggested that parts of the current Brexit deal could be rescued and recast.

Britain's Secretary of State for International Development Rory Stewart is seen outside Downing Street, as uncertainty over Brexit continues, in London, Britain May 7, 2019
Stewart: Time for Boris Johnson to give us his plan

But last night he told Eurosceptic MPs that the agreement was “dead as a dodo”.

It was that promise that secured Mr Johnson crucial support from ardent Brexiteers over Mr Raab.

Has the campaign been telling people what they want to hear? After all, they can deal with the consequences when their man is safely installed in Downing Street.

It was this idea Mr Raab tried to take aim at by casting himself as the ‘Brexiteer you can rely on’.

But ultimately, the message was drowned out by the volume of the Johnson Brexit foghorns.

As for the other candidates, Sajid Javid only just limped across the finish line.

It seems all but certain the Home Secretary will be in the drop zone come the next couple of rounds.

Expect serious lobbying of ‘Team Saj’ by rival campaigns eager to feast on his votes when he eventually exits the race.

A disappointing result for Jeremy Hunt and Michael Gove who remain in second and third place.

Between then they have fewer than half number of votes as the frontrunner and there’s little evidence either campaign is accelerating.

They could see further air squeezed out if the insurgent Rory Stewart puts in a punchy performance in tonight’s TV debate.

Team Hunt is already dismissing Mr Stewart’s progress as mere “entertainment” and pitching their man as the serious choice.

Meanwhile, the Gove campaign will be hoping to pick up some of Mr Raab’s 30 votes to push him into second place.

In reality, the race to be on the final ballot paper is still wide open.

The disruptor remains, the hardest Brexiteer is out and the frontrunner still reigns supreme.

For now.

http://news.sky.com/story/tory-leadership-race-still-wide-open-as-hardest-brexiteer-is-ousted-11744389

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