The results of the second ballot are in and it’s Dominic Raab who has been knocked out of the race. Boris Johnson cemented his lead going from 114 votes to 126. Brexiteer Raab meanwhile failed to win the 33 votes required – only mustering 30. As for the Cabinet candidates, there is still little difference in support between the top candidates. Rory Stewart managed the largest increase going from 19 votes in the first round to 37:
Michal Gove: 41
Jeremy Hunt: 46
Sajid Javid: 33
Boris Johnson: 126
Dominic Raab: 30
Rory Stewart: 37
So, what does the result mean for the overall contest? Johnson continues to look unassailable. What’s more, the fact that Raab is out of the race ought to give Johnson more breathing space both in terms of tonight’s BBC debate – and the overall contest. There was a sense amongst Johnson allies that going up against a fellow Brexiteer in the final two for the membership hustings would be a tougher task than going against a candidate who backed Remain.
There’s also another reason it could help Boris. No one is entirely sure what Johnson’s exact Brexit plan is. He has hinted that he sees the best way to a Brexit deal – and solution – as getting rid of the troubled backstop. Something along the lines of the Brady amendment or the Malthouse Compromise.
However, a number of his Brexiteer backers believe Johnson has suggested otherwise. Steve Baker took to social media earlier this week to warn that those leadership candidates who think the problem with the withdrawal agreement is simply the backstop are misguided. There was a concern among some Johnson allies that he could see these supporters move to Raab if he failed to commit to their exact Brexit plans. With Raab now out of the picture, European Research Group members have no other candidate to go to if Johnson fails to cut the muster on his Brexit position. Tonight’s debate ought to cast some light on where Johnson really stands.