Brexit Brief: Boris Johnson tops Tory leadership race after first round vote

Euroskeptic former foreign secretary Boris Johnson easily topped the first round of voting in the Conservative leadership contest on Thursday, making him the clear favorite to become the U.K.’s next prime minister.

Johnson led the way with 114 votes from Tory ministers—polling more votes than the next three candidates combined. Foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt placed second with 43 votes, followed by environment secretary Michael Gove, with 37.

According to the Financial Times, one minister said “this is Boris’s moment,” adding: “He is going to win.”

The result leaves the six other contenders fighting for second place and the opportunity to face off against Johnson in the final stages of the leadership race, which will ultimately see Conservative party members choose their new leader.

The second round of voting among ministers will take place on June 18, when candidates will require the backing of at least 32 Tory MPs to stay in the race.

Gaffe-prone Johnson formally launched his campaign on Wednesday after being criticized by his rivals for avoiding public appearance for fear of sabotaging his own leadership bid. At the launch, Johnson said his wasn’t aiming to take the U.K. out of the European Union without a deal on October 31 but wouldn’t be afraid to do so if required.

Sir Mark Sedwill, the U.K.’s senior civil servant, has said the government is in “pretty good shape” to cope with a no-deal Brexit. Speaking at an event organized by the Institute for Government, the cabinet Secretary said there had been “a lot of preparation”, the BBC reported.

A number of the leading candidates in the running to replace Theresa May as prime minister have, like Johnson, expressed their willingness to see through a no-deal Brexit.

But according to figures seen by the BBC’s Newsnight, many U.K. businesses “aren’t even close to being ready” for such a scenario.

In February the U.K. government launched a program, called the Transitional Simplified Procedures scheme, aimed at easing imports in the event of the country suddenly leaving the customs union and single market. The BBC found that less than 10% of the firms estimated to require the status had applied for it as of 26 May.

Meanwhile, on Thursday, a major industry body warned U.K. businesses they needed to do more to prepare for no-deal, the Guardian reported. The Institute of Directors told its members they cannot afford to put faith in politicians to produce a resolution to Brexit, saying firms need to ramp up their efforts to prepare for all potential outcomes.

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