Jeremy Hunt will face Boris Johnson in the race to be the next PM after Michael Gove was eliminated in the latest Tory leadership ballot.
Mr Gove was supported by 75 MPs – just two votes short of Mr Hunt’s 77.
Mr Johnson, considered the favourite in the race, was backed by 160 Conservative MPs.
He and Mr Hunt will now compete in a run-off of the party’s 160,000 or so members, and 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 cabinet minister 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 lead 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.