Boris Johnson, a former foreign secretary who helped lead the 2016 Brexit referendum campaign, is the runaway favorite to win a final pair of ballots on Thursday that will whittle down the race to replace Prime Minister Theresa May to two candidates.
Johnson, who served as London mayor for eight years, has cast himself as the only candidate who can deliver Brexit on October 31 while fighting off the electoral threats of Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party and Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party.
Despite a series of scandals in the past and criticism about his attention to detail, Johnson has dominated the race since May announced a month ago that she would step down after repeatedly failing to get her Brexit deal ratified by parliament.
Johnson, 55, has increased his share of the vote of Conservative lawmakers at each of the three ballots so far: 114 out of 313 votes in the first ballot on June 13, 126 on June 18 and 143 on Wednesday.
Two further ballots are taking place on Thursday, with first results expected at 1200 GMT and the final two candidates announced at 1700 GMT. At each ballot the candidate with the fewest votes gets knocked out until there are two.
Then around 160,000 Conservative Party grassroots members will vote on who will be their leader – and Britain’s next prime minister – by the end of July. Bookmakers give Johnson an 89 percent probability of winning.
Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt was in second place with 54 votes on Wednesday, Environment Secretary Michael Gove third with 51 and interior minister Sajid Javid fourth with 38 votes.
Johnson has pledged to leave the European Union on Oct. 31 with or without a deal. The EU has said it will not renegotiate the divorce deal that May agreed last year and the British parliament has indicated it will block a no-deal exit.
He has not addressed how he will solve that riddle.
The rise of Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson, cast by many as simply “Boris”, to pole position for leading the world’s fifth largest economy is the grandest twist so far in a career that has morphed from journalism via TV-show fame, comedy and scandal into the brinkmanship of Britain’s Brexit crisis.
Born in New York, Johnson was educated at Eton, Britain’s most exclusive school, and at Balliol College, Oxford. He began his career at a management consultancy in the City of London but dropped out after a week.
He then turned to journalism but was sacked from The Times newspaper for making up quotes.
Hired by The Daily Telegraph, Johnson infuriated European officials and delighted then-Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher by lampooning the European Economic Community establishment with a host of sometimes misleading reports from Brussels.
After entering politics, he was sacked from the Conservative Party’s policy team while in opposition for lying about an extra-marital affair.
But his sometimes shambolic personal appearance and disarmingly self-deprecating confidence allowed him to survive both gaffes and scandal. He won two terms as London mayor from 2008 to 2016.
In 2016, he became one of the most recognizable faces of the Brexit campaign which won the referendum with 52% of the votes cast versus 48% for staying in.
His bid to replace David Cameron, who resigned after the referendum, was foiled by Gove who pulled out of his campaign saying Johnson was unsuitable for the job.
After May won the premiership, she prompted consternation in European capitals by appointing Johnson foreign minister. He resigned in 2018 over May’s handling of Brexit.
“We must leave the EU on October 31st, with or without a deal, so we can begin to unite our country, restore trust in our politics, and move beyond Brexit to focus on delivering for everyone,” Johnson said on Tuesday.