THE battle to be the challenger to Boris Johnson for the Conservative crown is now a straight fight between Michael Gove and Jeremy Hunt after the fourth round vote saw Sajid Javid eliminated.

Boris Johnson has now gained the support of half the parliamentary party with 157 votes, an increase of 14.

Crucially perhaps, Mr Gove has now replaced Mr Hunt in second place, putting on 10 votes to total 61 compared to the Foreign Secretary, who gained five votes to put him on 59.

In a boost to the Scot's campaign, Ruth Davidson, the Scottish Conservative leader, who had backed Mr Javid, announced she was now backing Mr Gove.

READ MORE: Sajid Javid out of running to become next Prime Minister

The Home Secretary, saw his vote fall from 38 to 34.

Interestingly, there were two spoilt ballot papers among the 313 Tory MPs.

As the atmosphere at Westminster intensifies, there is a growing belief among some MPs that the Johnson camp will now “lend” votes to Mr Hunt to knock out Mr Gove; despite its denials.

In 2016, it was the Environment Secretary’s declaration against his fellow Leave campaigner, that Mr Johnson was not fit to be Prime Minister, which killed off the former Foreign Secretary’s campaign.

READ MORE: Ruth Davidson switches support to back Michael Gove in Tory leadership race 

Any run-off between Mr Gove and Mr Johnson would resurrect the psychodrama of three years ago and pitch the bitter rivals against each other.

The former London Mayor is believed to want to avoid that scenario at all costs. One MP suggested that in a Gove-Johnson contest before the 160,000 party members, the Environment Secretary would seek to “destroy” his colleague.

Mr Gove tweeted his reaction, saying: "Absolutely delighted to come second in the latest ballot! It's all to play for in the final ballot this afternoon. If I make the final two I look forward to having a civilised debate of ideas about the future of our country."

A supporter of the Scot told The Herald: “The momentum is now with Michael. He is the best person to take on Boris by far.”

Ross Thompson, the MP for Aberdeen South and a keen Johnson supporter, tweeted: ".@BorisJohnson is smashing it again in that latest round of voting. He is the only candidate with momentum and the only candidate bringing our MPs together from every side and part of the country. Boris can deliver Brexit, unite the party and unite the country."

Another Johnson backer said: “Boris now has the support of more than 50 per cent of Conservative MPs. He has a mandate to deliver Brexit from the MPs and now must win over the members.

READ MORE: Ruth Davidson says she will work with Boris Johnson if he becomes Prime Minister

“Hunt has lost momentum but he most likely will pick up the majority of Javid’s vote.”

Mr Gove, Mr Hunt and their aides will spend this afternoon hitting the phones to try to persuade not only Mr Javid’s supporters but also others to back their campaigns. But they will have little time as the ballots open from 3pm until 5pm with the result due at 6pm.

From the start of the contest, it was always likely that the final three candidates would be Messrs Johnson, Hunt and Gove.

Despite his capacity for gaffes, the former Foreign Secretary is clearly regarded by most of his parliamentary colleagues to be the person best-placed to deliver Brexit.

Mr Hunt has approached the campaign thus far as the embodiment of Britain’s first diplomat, carefully calibrating his language while trying to dispel the image that he is “Theresa May in trousers”.

READ MORE: Boris Johnson urged by Amber Rudd to rule out 'game-playing' in final day of Tory leadership voting

Mr Gove has come across as the most combative, insisting as the lead Leaver he can deliver Brexit although he is flexible on the October 31 deadline should a deal be very near but not complete. He appears, at the moment, to have ridden through the revelation about his drug-taking and he charges of hypocrisy. But these could come back to haunt him in the hustings if he makes it through this evening.

Results thus far in the four rounds.

Johnson: 1. 114; 2. 126; 3. 143; 4. 157.

Hunt: 1. 43; 2. 46; 3. 54; 4. 59.

Gove: 1. 37; 2. 41; 3. 51; 4. 61.

Raab: 1. 27; 2. 30.

Javid: 1. 23; 2. 33; 3. 38; 4. 34.

Stewart: 1. 19; 2. 37; 3. 27.

Leadsom 1. 11.

Harper 1. 10.

McVey 1. 9.