Theresa May could trigger Brexit within weeks due to “quite vicious” leaders around the EU table, the Taoiseach (Irish prime minister) has warned.
Enda Kenny was speaking before a meeting in Dublin to discuss the implications of Brexit for the island.
Representatives from business and farming organisations, as well as civic society, are also attending the talks.
However, neither the Democratic Unionist Party nor the Ulster Unionist Party are at the conference.
The All Island Civic Dialogue on Brexit is taking place at the Royal Hospital in Kilmainham.
- What are the implications of Brexit for NI?
- Pound’s fall pays off for NI border towns
- What does Brexit mean for the Irish border?
Mr Kenny wants to hear from those affected by the UK’s decision to leave the European Union and to map out the challenges posed and their potential impact on different parts of society.
Mr Kenny said the prime minister had indicated she will trigger Article 50 – the mechanism for leaving the EU – before the end of March.
“That doesn’t mean it might not be triggered in December. Or January or February,” he said.
He added that some European leaders would become very hostile to Britain.
“The other side of the argument may well get vicious after a while, because there are those around the European table who take a very poor view of the fact that Britain decided to leave.
“That argument, I think, will be fought very toughly in a really, difficult negotiating sense.”
The conference is being attended by Sinn Féin, the SDLP and the Alliance Party.
Speaking at the opening of the event, Mr Kenny said Brexit was an issue that had the “potential to impact on everybody on the island, north and south”.
“It has implications for so many aspects of our relationship and it presents the most significant economic and social challenge of the last 50 years,” he said.
DUP leader Arlene Foster has dismissed the gathering as a grand-standing exercise for what she calls “remoaners”, but said real business could be done at the North-South Ministerial Council meeting later this month.
SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said it was a missed opportunity for the DUP.
“The people like Arlene Foster, who argued and fought for Brexit and told us that there was going to be fantastic opportunities, now need to realise that there are not any unique opportunities from Brexit, there are only difficulties.”
The Sinn Féin leader, Gerry Adams, re-iterated that his party was pushing for a “special status” for Northern Ireland.
He said: “This is not about a hard Brexit or a soft Brexit, but about an alternative to Brexit.”
Alliance leader Naomi Long said: “There has been much talk about a hard versus a soft Brexit and we would obviously prefer a soft Brexit, or indeed no Brexit at all.
“But we also need to confront the notion of a one-size-fits-all Brexit, and in this regard, we do support consideration of some form of special status for Northern Ireland.”
The Republic of Ireland is one of 27 countries that the EU will be negotiating on behalf of, but it is the only member with a land border with the UK.
The Irish government has concerns about:
- The implications of the vote for the border with Northern Ireland and the peace process
- The continuation of the Common Travel Area that precedes both the UK and the Republic joining what is now the EU
- The 1bn euros a week in trade between the Republic and the UK
Although the EU has said no negotiations can begin until Article 50 of the Lisbon treaty has been triggered, senior sources in Dublin told the BBC that the heads of all the civil service departments in the Republic and London have met in recent weeks to “tease out and explore” issues, without engaging in side-negotiations.
The sources say that Michel Barnier, who is heading the European Commission’s team, is aware of this and has a strong sense of the problems posed for border areas.
In advance of this month’s North-South Ministerial Council meeting, Mr Kenny has asked all his ministers to have advance talks with their Northern Ireland counterparts.
Brexit: Theresa May could trigger Brexit ‘within weeks’ over ‘vicious’ EU leaders