Top candidates to lead Britain differ on Brexit urgency

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What's Next for Europe After Brexit?

LONDON, July 3 (Reuters) - Two leading contenders to be the next British prime minister disagreed publicly on Sunday on how quickly negotiations should be triggered to plan a departure from the European Union.

Interior minister Theresa May, the front-runner who campaigned for a "Remain" vote in the June 23 referendum, said Britain needed to have a clear negotiating position and she would not be rushed into starting the formal exit process this year.

SEE ALSO: Thousands gather in London to protest against Brexit vote
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Junior energy minister Andrea Leadsom, who has emerged as a strong rival to May from the "Leave" camp, struck a more urgent note, saying Britain had to "get a grip and make progress."

Britons voted by 52 to 48 percent to leave the bloc it had joined in 1973, defeating a campaign led by Prime Minister David Cameron, who announced his resignation the following morning.

Adding to the political turbulence, the vast majority of the main center-left opposition Labour Party's lawmakers openly denounced their leader Jeremy Corbyn as unfit for the job but he has refused to resign, citing grassroots support.

Five candidates are vying to succeed Cameron as Conservative Party leader and prime minister. The field will be whittled down to two by the party's lawmakers over the summer, before party members pick the winner by Sept. 9.

Brexit protesters in favor of staying in the EU:

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Brexit protesters in favor of staying in the EU
Two activists with the EU flag and Union Jack painted on their faces kiss each other in front of Brandenburg Gate to protest against British exit from the European Union, in Berlin, Germany, June 19, 2016. REUTERS/Hannibal Hanschke
Anti-government demonstrators hold placards reading "No Brexit" during a protest outside the parliament in Athens, Greece June 15, 2016. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis
A protestor uses a megaphone to address a crowd as they gather outside The Houses of Parliament to demonstrate against the European Union (EU) referendum result, in London, U.K., on Saturday, June 25, 2016. The U.K. voted to quit the European Union after more than four decades in a stunning rejection of the continent's postwar political and economic order. Photographer: Jason Alden/Bloomberg via Getty Images
A protestor holds a placard which reads 'YES 2 EU' to demonstrate against the European Union (EU) referendum result, outside The Houses of Parliament in London, U.K., on Saturday, June 25, 2016. The U.K. voted to quit the European Union after more than four decades in a stunning rejection of the continent's postwar political and economic order. Photographer: Jason Alden/Bloomberg via Getty Images
A protestor holding a European Union (EU) flag, addresses a crowd as he demonstrates against the European Union (EU) referendum result, in London, U.K., on Saturday, June 25, 2016. The U.K. voted to quit the European Union after more than four decades in a stunning rejection of the continent's postwar political and economic order. Photographer: Jason Alden/Bloomberg via Getty Images
A protest camp of people calling for a second referendum on Scottish independence, in Edinburgh, Scotland on June 25, 2016, following the pro-Brexit result of the UK's EU referendum vote. The result of Britain's June 23 referendum vote to leave the European Union (EU) has pitted parents against children, cities against rural areas, north against south and university graduates against those with fewer qualifications. London, Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to remain in the EU but Wales and large swathes of England, particularly former industrial hubs in the north with many disaffected workers, backed a Brexit. / AFP / OLI SCARFF (Photo credit should read OLI SCARFF/AFP/Getty Images)
A demonstrator holds a placard that reads 'So Long Great Britain' during a protest against the pro-Brexit outcome of the UK's June 23 referendum on the European Union (EU), in central London on June 25, 2016. The result of Britain's June 23 referendum vote to leave the European Union (EU) has pitted parents against children, cities against rural areas, north against south and university graduates against those with fewer qualifications. London, Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to remain in the EU but Wales and large swathes of England, particularly former industrial hubs in the north with many disaffected workers, backed a Brexit. / AFP / JUSTIN TALLIS (Photo credit should read JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP/Getty Images)
A demonstrator holds a placard during a protest against the pro-Brexit outcome of the UK's June 23 referendum on the European Union (EU), in central London on June 25, 2016. The result of Britain's June 23 referendum vote to leave the European Union (EU) has pitted parents against children, cities against rural areas, north against south and university graduates against those with fewer qualifications. London, Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to remain in the EU but Wales and large swathes of England, particularly former industrial hubs in the north with many disaffected workers, backed a Brexit. / AFP / JUSTIN TALLIS (Photo credit should read JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - JUNE 25: A small group of young people gather to protest on Parliament Square the day after a majority of the British public voted for leaving the European Union on June 25, 2016 in London, England. The ramifications of the historic referendum yesterday that saw the United Kingdom vote to Leave the European Union are still being fully understood. The Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, who is under pressure from within his party to resign has blamed the 'Brexit' vote on 'powerlessness', 'austerity' and peoples fears over the issue of immigration. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - JUNE 25: A small group of young people gather to protest on Parliament Square the day after a majority of the British public voted for leaving the European Union on June 25, 2016 in London, England. The ramifications of the historic referendum yesterday that saw the United Kingdom vote to Leave the European Union are still being fully understood. The Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, who is under pressure from within his party to resign has blamed the 'Brexit' vote on 'powerlessness', 'austerity' and peoples fears over the issue of immigration. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - JUNE 25: A small group of people gather to protest on Parliament Square the day after the majority of the British public voted to leave the European Union on June 25, 2016 in London, England. The ramifications of the historic referendum yesterday that saw the United Kingdom vote to Leave the European Union are still being fully understood. The Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, who is under pressure from within his party to resign has blamed the 'Brexit' vote on 'powerlessness', 'austerity' and peoples fears over the issue of immigration. (Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - JUNE 25: A small group of young people gather to protest on Parliament Square the day after a majority of the British public voted for leaving the European Union on June 25, 2016 in London, England. The ramifications of the historic referendum yesterday that saw the United Kingdom vote to Leave the European Union are still being fully understood. The Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, who is under pressure from within his party to resign has blamed the 'Brexit' vote on 'powerlessness', 'austerity' and peoples fears over the issue of immigration. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)
Demonstrators hold placards during a protest against the outcome of the UK's June 23 referendum on the European Union (EU), in central London on June 25, 2016. The result of Britain's June 23 referendum vote to leave the European Union (EU) has pitted parents against children, cities against rural areas, north against south and university graduates against those with fewer qualifications. London, Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to remain in the EU but Wales and large swathes of England, particularly former industrial hubs in the north with many disaffected workers, backed a Brexit. / AFP / JUSTIN TALLIS (Photo credit should read JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - JUNE 25: A small group of people gather to protest on Parliament Square the day after the majority of the British public voted to leave the European Union on June 25, 2016 in London, England. The ramifications of the historic referendum yesterday that saw the United Kingdom vote to Leave the European Union are still being fully understood. The Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, who is under pressure from within his party to resign has blamed the 'Brexit' vote on 'powerlessness', 'austerity' and peoples fears over the issue of immigration. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND- JUNE 24: Young protesters demonstrate outside Downing Street, following the United Kingdom's decision to leave the EU following the referendum, on June 24, 2016 in London, England. The result from the historic EU referendum has now been declared and the United Kingdom has voted to LEAVE the European Union. (Photo by Mary Turner/Getty Images)
A boat flying a large 'In' flag, campaigning to remain in the EU in the upcoming referendum sails by the British Houses of Parliament to meet a flotilla of boats from the group 'Fishing for Leave' on the river Thames in London on June 15, 2016. A Brexit flotilla of fishing boats sailed up the River Thames into London today with foghorns sounding, in a protest against EU fishing quotas by the campaign for Britain to leave the European Union. / AFP / NIKLAS HALLE'N (Photo credit should read NIKLAS HALLE'N/AFP/Getty Images)
A boat flying a large 'In' flag, campaigning to remain in the EU in the upcoming referendum sails by the British Houses of Parliament to oppose a flotilla of boats from the group 'Fishing for Leave' (L) on the river Thames in London on June 15, 2016. A Brexit flotilla of fishing boats sailed up the River Thames into London today with foghorns sounding, in a protest against EU fishing quotas by the campaign for Britain to leave the European Union. / AFP / NIKLAS HALLE'N (Photo credit should read NIKLAS HALLE'N/AFP/Getty Images)
A boat carrying supporters for a ' remain' vote in the EU referendum including Irish singer Bob Geldof (C) shout and wave at fishing boats supporting a 'leave' vote as they sail on the river Thames in central London on June 15, 2016. A Brexit flotilla of fishing boats sailed up the River Thames into London today with foghorns sounding, in a protest against EU fishing quotas by the campaign for Britain to leave the European Union. / AFP / NIKLAS HALLE'N (Photo credit should read NIKLAS HALLE'N/AFP/Getty Images)
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"NO CORONATION"

May has established an early lead, gaining the support of more than 100 lawmakers, reports said on Sunday, four times as many as any other candidate.

But her critics, including rivals Leadsom and Justice Secretary Michael Gove, said the next leader needed to come from the winning "Leave" side of the EU debate.

May, who vowed to honor the vote when she launched her bid on Thursday, said Britain needed a leader who could bring the country back together.

"(People) are not looking for a prime minister who is just a Brexit prime minister, but a prime minister who can govern for the whole of the country," she said in an interview on ITV.

The shock decision to leave the EU has pushed the pound to 30-year lows and raised concerns that the British economy could go into reverse.

Media reports on Sunday suggested that some Conservative lawmakers wanted Leadsom and other candidates to stand aside so that May could be installed quickly in Downing Street to establish stability and start making progress towards Brexit.

But May said she did not favor the "coronation" scenario." "I think there should be a contest," she said.

"GET A GRIP"

EU leaders have been putting pressure on Britain to trigger article 50 quickly to set the exit process in motion and avoid a prolonged period of uncertainty that is also destabilizing for the other 27 member states.

Once the article is invoked, the clock starts ticking for an exit deal to be agreed within two years.

"We've got to be clear about what our negotiating stance is before we trigger that article 50, because once we trigger it then all the processes start," said May.

But former banker Leadsom, who was one of the most passionate advocates of Brexit during the referendum campaign, said she would move as quickly as possible.

"It's about giving certainty to businesses, it's about saying to the world 'we're open for business'," she told BBC TV.

"We need to get on with it, we need to get a grip and make progress."

Leadsom, who is not well known to many Britons, is eclipsing her senior colleague Gove, whose own campaign is struggling to escape the charges of betrayal towards leading "Leave" campaigner Boris Johnson.

Gove withdrew his support for former London mayor Johnson and decided to run against his former ally on Thursday.

The final choice of leader, and Britain's next prime minister, will come down to a vote of about 150,000 members of the Conservative Party.

A poll of Conservative voters in the Mail on Sunday newspaper gave May overwhelming 86 percent support in a head-to-head against Leadsom.

(Additional reporting by Michael Holden; Editing by Keith Weir)

RELATED: Supporters react in favor of the Brexit vote

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Supporters react in favor of the Brexit vote
LONDON, ENGLAND - JUNE 24: People react to a regional EU referendum result at the Leave.EU campaign's referendum party at Millbank Tower on June 23, 2016 in London, England. The United Kingdom has gone to the polls to decide whether or not the country wishes to remain within the European Union. After a hard fought campaign from both REMAIN and LEAVE the vote is too close to call. A result on the referendum is expected on Friday morning.(Photo by Jack Taylor/Getty Images)
Paul Nuttall, member of the European parliament, center, reacts to regional European Union (EU) results being announced at the Town Hall in Manchester, U.K., on Friday, June 24, 2016. U.K. referendum results pointed toward a vote to leave the European Union after more than four decades of membership, rocking markets globally and putting a question mark over Prime Minister David Cameron's future in office. Photographer: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), Nigel Farage reacts at the Leave.EU referendum party at Millbank Tower in central London on June 24, 2016, as results indicate that it looks likely the UK will leave the European Union (EU). Top anti-EU campaigner Nigel Farage said he was increasingly confident of victory in Britain's EU referendum on Friday, voicing hope that the result 'brings down' the European Union. / AFP / GEOFF CADDICK (Photo credit should read GEOFF CADDICK/AFP/Getty Images)
Leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), Nigel Farage (C) reacts at the Leave.EU referendum party at Millbank Tower in central London on June 24, 2016, as results indicate that it looks likely the UK will leave the European Union (EU). Top anti-EU campaigner Nigel Farage said he was increasingly confident of victory in Britain's EU referendum on Friday, voicing hope that the result 'brings down' the European Union. / AFP / GEOFF CADDICK (Photo credit should read GEOFF CADDICK/AFP/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - JUNE 23: People react to a regional EU referendum result at the Leave.EU campaign's referendum party at Millbank Tower on June 23, 2016 in London, England. The United Kingdom has gone to the polls to decide whether or not the country wishes to remain within the European Union. After a hard fought campaign from both REMAIN and LEAVE the vote is too close to call. A result on the referendum is expected on Friday morning.(Photo by Jack Taylor/Getty Images)
Nigel Farage (L), Britain's UK Independence Party (UKIP) leader and European Commission President Jean Claude Juncker (R) take part in a plenary session at the European Parliament on the outcome of the "Brexit" summit, in Brussels February 24, 2016. REUTERS/Yves Herman
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