Jeremy Hunt will face Boris Johnson in the race to be the next Tory leader and PM, after Michael Gove was eliminated in the final ballot of the party’s MPs.
Environment Secretary Mr Gove was supported by 75 MPs – just two votes short of Mr Hunt’s 77.
Mr Johnson, who was backed by 160 Conservative MPs, said he was looking forward to “getting out across the UK” and to set out his Brexit plan.
He and Mr Hunt will now be put to a vote of around 160,000 party members.
The winner will be announced in the week of 22 July.
All 313 Conservative MPs voted – with one spoiled ballot recorded.
On Twitter, Environment Secretary Mr Gove congratulated his rivals and said he was “naturally disappointed but so proud of the campaign we ran”.
Former Foreign Secretary Mr Johnson said he was “deeply honoured” to have gained the backing of more than half of all Tory MPs.
Meanwhile, Foreign Secretary Mr Hunt, acknowledging Mr Johnson’s widely acknowledged position as the favourite in the race, tweeted: “I’m the underdog but in politics surprises happen as they did today.”
An earlier ballot of MPs on Thursday saw Home Secretary Sajid Javid knocked out and Mr Gove leapfrog Mr Hunt into second place.
It led to a warning from one source close to Mr Hunt against reigniting the “personal psychodrama” between Mr Gove and Mr Johnson – who spearheaded the Vote Leave campaign together in 2016, but later parted ways after Mr Gove abandoned Mr Johnson’s previous leadership bid, to launch his own.