Boris Johnson has secured the highest number of votes in the first ballot to select the Conservative party leader and next prime minister.
Three contenders – Mark Harper, Andrea Leadsom and Esther McVey – have been knocked out, in the secret ballot held in the House of Commons.
Mr Johnson received 114 votes, Jeremy Hunt was second with 43, and Michael Gove third with 37 votes.
Seven candidates progress to the next round of voting next week.
The two most popular MPs will be put to Tory party members in a final vote later this month.
The winner of the contest to succeed Theresa May is expected to be announced in the week of 22 July.
All 313 Conservative MPs voted in the first ballot.
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Mr Johnson said he was “delighted to win the first ballot, but we have a long way to go”.
Foreign Secretary Mr Hunt said he was “delighted” to have come second, saying: “This serious moment calls for a serious leader.”
And Environment Secretary Mr Gove said it was “all to play for” and he was “very much looking forward” to the TV debates on Channel 4 on Sunday and on BBC One on Tuesday next week.
Home Secretary Sajid Javid said: “I look forward to continuing to share my positive vision and my plan for uniting the country.”
Health Secretary Matt Hancock thanked his supporters, saying it was “terrific to have more votes from colleagues than I could have hoped for”.
Former Brexit secretary Dominic Raab, said he was “proud and honoured” and he had a “good base to build on”.
International Development Secretary Rory Stewart told the BBC’s Politics Live he was “completely over the moon” to have got through the first vote.
He said he only had six declared votes ahead of the poll, but “more than three times that” voted for him in the secret ballot.
So is the Boris Johnson bandwagon unstoppable?
It’s worth remembering that the leading candidate at the same stage in the Conservative leadership contest in 2005 was David Davis…who went on to lose.
And in 2001 it was Michael Portillo, who then failed to make the final two.
So opponents of Mr Johnson could still gang up and do him in.
But as one canny Conservative observer put it: “Backing Boris is the ambitious thing to do.”
By being so far in front, MPs who want to climb the ministerial ladder may try to board the bandwagon now.
But his relatively rare media appearances means that, presumably, the former foreign secretary recognises that he can be his own worse enemy.
His long-standing ally Conor Burns tells me he takes nothing for granted.
Mr Johnson carries his lead like an impressive yet fragile precious vase – his opponents will be hoping if they can’t trip him up he will fall over his own feet.
But on Brexit especially his detractors cannot unite around a single alternative vision – and that may be his best hope of avoiding disaster.
Justice Secretary David Gauke said Mr Stewart was now the main challenger to Mr Johnson, saying: “He’s really in with a chance and the momentum is with Rory.”
But Defence Secretary Penny Mordaunt, who is supporting Mr Hunt’s campaign, said the foreign secretary is “attractive to many sides of the party because he’s a serious individual”.
And Schools Minister Nick Gibb told BBC Radio 4’s World at One that Mr Gove was now “best placed as a Brexiteer to challenge the front runner” Mr Johnson in the final.