The Fight to Lead the U.K. Narrows to 2: Boris Johnson vs. Jeremy Hunt

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LONDON — After more than a week of campaigning, intriguing and infighting among Conservative Party lawmakers, Britain’s foreign secretary, Jeremy Hunt, won the right on Thursday to take on his more famous and charismatic predecessor, Boris Johnson, in the final phase of the race to become the next prime minister.

Mr. Hunt was the second choice of Tory lawmakers, well behind Mr. Johnson, and now the two men will compete for the votes of around 160,000 members of the party who will next month select a successor to Prime Minister Theresa May. Mr. Johnson won 160 votes, and Mr. Hunt 77.

Mr. Johnson, whose optimistic, bombastic and entertaining speeches at party conferences have made him a favorite of activists, is supremely well placed to win the vote. The party members are disproportionately older, whiter and more male than the general population and appear to favor Brexit at any cost, something that Mr. Johnson has championed since a 2016 referendum that he helped win.

According to the rumor mill, the mild-mannered Mr. Hunt was the candidate that Mr. Johnson most wanted to face in the runoff, and all day Thursday there was speculation in Parliament of tactical voting by his supporters to eliminate Michael Gove, the environment secretary.

The other central focus of the next few weeks will be what Mr. Johnson says about Brexit, given that he is very likely to emerge as the next prime minister.

Although hard-line Brexit supporters believe that he has promised them that Britain will leave the European Union, with or without an agreement on the next deadline of Oct. 31, Mr. Johnson has been less explicit in public.

During a BBC debate on Tuesday, Mr. Johnson described that timeline as “eminently feasible,” a phrasing that left significant room for maneuver.

Senior Tories hope that the next phase of the contest will not expose too many internal divisions. The prospect of a race between Mr. Johnson and Mr. Gove, reviving one of the most treacherous and poisonous rivalries of recent British political history, had sent shudders through the Tory ranks.

The two were friends as students at Oxford and both were journalists before being elected to Parliament. Both also campaigned for Brexit during the 2016 referendum and, when David Cameron resigned as prime minister in its aftermath, Mr. Gove supported Mr. Johnson as the successor.

Mr. Gove then changed his mind, ran himself and justified his betrayal by arguing that Mr. Johnson was not equipped to be prime minister. That wrecked Mr. Johnson’s first attempt to win the Conservative Party leadership and opened the way for Mrs. May to seize the crown instead.

Three years later, and restored to the cabinet, Mr. Gove also posed a threat to Mr. Johnson because he was a supporter of Brexit before him. He therefore had good credentials with Conservative Party members.

But Mr. Gove’s campaign got off to a disastrous start when he admitted having used cocaine two decades ago, an acknowledgment that opened him to the charge of hypocrisy over his later actions as education and justice secretary.

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