CUMBRIA'S Tory leadership contender Rory Stewart is through to the next round of the contest.

Described by some commentators as a "rising star" of the race to lead the Conservative Party - and so become the UK's next Prime Minister - the Penrith and the Border MP is rapidly emerging as one of Boris Johnson's most credible rivals.

Stewart got support by 19 of his fellow Tory MPs - two more than the 17 threshold needed to stay in the contest.

As expected, the clear winner was Boris Johnson, who remains the favourite to win.

He polled 114 votes.

Among the first-round casualties - MPs who failed to poll enough votes to stay in the race - were Andrea Leadsome, Esther McVey, and Mark Harper.

Over the last week, Stewart - who is the Government's current International Development Secretary - has conducted a determined campaign, taking his vision for the future of his party out on to the streets, up and down the UK, promoting himself via social media.

Over the last 10 days, he has achieved more than 57 million hits on social media.

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The MP says that his background as a professional diplomat would help him steer MPs towards a form of Theresa May's Brexit that could command a majority support in Parliament.

He is vehemently opposed to a no-deal Brexit, saying it would devastate the UK's economy - including Cumbria's farming industry.

In contrast, Boris Johnson is adamant the UK must leave the European Union by October 31.

He this week told fellow MPs that he is not aiming for a no-deal Brexit but he believes it has to remain on the table as a tool of negotiation.

Just hours before the result of the ballot held by Conservative MPs was announced, a poll carried out by the ConservativeHome website revealed that Boris Johnson remained the front-runner with party member but Stewart has risen to become their second favourite candidate.

The votes cast in today's poll by the Conservative Party's 1922 back-benchers committee are as follows:

Boris Johnson: 114

Rory Stewart:19

Jeremy Hunt: 43

Michael Gove: 37

Dominic Raab: 27

Andrea Leadsom: 11

Matt Hancock: 20

Esther McVey: 9

Sajid Javid: 23

Mark Harper: 10

The ConservativeHome survey revealed that Boris Johnson has support from 54% of the 1,500 party members polled, while Stewart gleaned 11% support, with Dominic Raab in third place with 8%.

When MPs have whittled down the list of candidates to the final two, the choice of leader will be made by a vote of the party's 160,000 members.