Brexit negotiations could be “quite vicious” and may be triggered as early as next month, Taoiseach Enda Kenny has warned
Speaking at the the first all-island civic dialogue on Brexit, Mr Kenny described it as an “evolving process” but cautioned Europe could “lose the plot” if it focuses too much on what Britain might do.
The forum was attended by around 300 people including members of political parties from North and South of the border, farming, business and tourism organisations as well as community groups, unions, and representatives from the university sector.
While Prime Minister Theresa May has repeatedly stated that Article 50, which starts the exit negotiations, will be triggered before the end of March, Mr Kenny said this could happen as soon as December, January, or February.
He said that when Article 50 is invoked, negotiations could get “vicious” because “there are those around the European table who take a very poor view of the fact that Britain has decided to leave and that argument will be fought very toughly and in a really difficult negotiating sense.”
He added: “I am not too sure that if we camp in Downing St, sometimes when friends call they are very welcome, but don’t overstay the welcome.
“We have got a very good relationship going and we intend to keep it that way. So this is a very serious matter.
“Europe has got to decide for itself in these negotiations where it wants to be in the next 50 years and if it becomes obsessed with what the United Kingdom might or might not get, then Europe itself loses the plot.”
He said the negotiations would be an “evolving process”, adding: “If all of us here were asked to make a decision on Monday next week on Brexit, we are not in a position to do so because the process is evolving.
“We know some of the parameters and that’s why it’s very important for the political process here to understand your views, they are really important.”
While the forum was dubbed as an all-island event, Stormont first minister and DUP leader Arlene Foster declined an invite claiming it would be a “talking shop” for “grandstanding remainers”. Sinn Féin, the SDLP, and the Alliance Party did attend.
Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan said he was disappointed Ms Foster had not accepted the invitation to attend, adding that “there is strength in unity”.
Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin said Ireland must receive a special deal when negotiations begin.
Speaking at the event, he said a “different approach” is needed, adding that there is “an urgent need to quickly move forward”.
“One outcome of the negotiation process has to be the development of a specific package which recognises the unique economic and social impact of Brexit on Ireland,” he said.
Closing the event, Mr Flanagan said four key outcomes had been reached from the civic dialogue. He said the Government would host another conference in early 2017. Public submissions would also be sought as part of the dialogue process.