UK govt wins vote, PM race down to four

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The government of British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has won a late-night confidence vote, with members of the ruling Conservative Party rallying behind its ministers to avoid triggering a national election.

The opposition Labour Party has called on Johnson, who has announced his resignation following a string of scandals, to be replaced immediately by a caretaker leader until his successor is elected by the Conservative Party in early September.

Labour had sought to hold a confidence vote in the government and Johnson in order to try to force him out sooner, but the government objected saying it was unnecessary because the prime minister has already said he will go.

The Conservatives instead proposed a confidence motion in the government, which they won by 349 votes to 238.

In the replace to replace Johnson as party leader and Britain's next prime minister, former treasurer Rishi Sunak held onto his lead as another hopeful was knocked out, leaving four candidates in an increasingly bitter contest to replace Boris Johnson.

Sunak got 115 votes in the third ballot of Conservative MPs on Monday, ahead of former defence minister Penny Mordaunt on 82 and Foreign Secretary Liz Truss on 71.

Since Johnson said he would resign earlier this month after his scandal-ridden administration lost the support of many in his ruling Conservative Party, the race to replace him has taken an ugly turn with several contenders turning their fire on frontrunner Sunak.

He has faced criticism on everything from his record in government to the wealth of his wife by those vying to make it to a run-off between the final two candidates.

Foreign secretary Truss and Mordaunt, currently a junior trade minister, are his most likely opponents.

The chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee Tom Tugendhat, a former soldier and Johnson critic who has never had a role in government, was eliminated from the leadership contest on Monday, after securing the fewest votes with 31.

Former equalities minister Kemi Badenoch came fourth in the ballot with 58 votes.

The governing Conservative Party's 358 MPs will whittle the field down to the final two this week, eliminating the candidate with the fewest votes each time.

The results of the next ballot are due at 1400 GMT on Tuesday (midnight Tuesday AEST).

A new prime minister will be announced on September 5, after the Conservative Party's 200,000 members cast postal ballots.

The race has become focused on pledges, or non-pledges, to cut taxes, at a time when Britain's economy is beset with spiralling inflation, high debt and low growth that have left people with the tightest squeeze on their finances in decades.

Truss has also come under fire for saying she would change the Bank of England's mandate.

At a televised debate on Sunday, candidates attacked each other over their records, and Truss and Sunak pulled out of a planned third debate on Tuesday amid concern among Conservatives about candidates attacking their party colleagues.

Sunak extended his lead over Mordaunt, who lost support and registered one fewer vote than she had in round two.

Truss's campaign tried to buttress their argument for lower taxes by citing a report by The Centre for Economic and Business Research, a private sector think tank, showing there was more room for manoeuvre from higher tax receipts.

But a top Bank of England official, Michael Saunders, pushed back at her suggestion the government should set a "clear direction of travel" for monetary policy, saying the foundations of Britain's framework were best left untouched.

"The government very clearly does not set the direction of travel for monetary policy," Saunders, one of nine members of the interest rate-setting Monetary Policy Committee, said at a Resolution Foundation event in London.

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