UK conservatives are now debating how to leave the European Union

Theresa May, the current front-runner who campaigned to stay in the EU, says Britain shouldn't rush into the exit process. Other contenders, like Andrea Leadsom, are striking a more urgent note.

by VICE News and Reuters
Jul 3 2016, 7:15pm

Foto di Michael Vadon/Flickr

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.

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 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.

Related: Having 'no charisma' isn't stopping Michael Gove from a bid to lead the UK post-Brexit

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 September 9.

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.

Related: Jeremy Corbyn refuses to resign after Brexit — but his party might force him out

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.

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.

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.

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

Related: The Leave campaign is backtracking on immigration promises

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.