Home Secretary Theresa May has taken pole position in the race to succeed David Cameron as prime minister, securing a comfortable advantage over her rivals with the backing of 165 Conservative MPs in the first round of voting.
Former defence secretary Liam Fox was eliminated from the contest after winning the support of just 16 MPs.
May's tally was exactly half of the 330 Conservative MPs, but was a majority of the 329 voting, guaranteeing her a place in the final run-off ballot of Conservative members unless she loses supporters to one of her rivals over the next few days.
Now attention turns to the battle for the second place on the ballot paper, with leading Brexit backer Andrea Leadsom taking 66 votes, Eurosceptic Justice Secretary Michael Gove 48 and Work and Pensions Secretary Stephen Crabb 34.
The four remaining contenders are due to face a second MPs' vote on Thursday, followed by a final round next Tuesday unless any of the candidates has dropped out by that time.
The two candidates who top the final round of MPs' votes will go forward to a postal ballot of party members to select a new Conservative leader - and prime minister - in a contest due to end on September 9.
Welcoming her victory, May said: "I am pleased with this result, and very grateful to my colleagues for their support today.
"There is a big job before us: to unite our party and the country, to negotiate the best possible deal as we leave the EU, and to make Britain work for everyone.
"I am the only candidate capable of delivering these three things as prime minister, and tonight it is clear that I am also the only one capable of drawing support from the whole of the Conservative Party.
"I look forward to continuing the debate about Britain's future - in Parliament and across the country."