The UK has moved a step closer to leaving the European Union (EU) after Theresa May, the UK’s Prime Minister, triggered Article 50 last night.

Last June, 52% of the UK electorate voted in favour of leaving the EU and last night’s move formally marks the beginning of the exit or divorce procedure.

British Ambassador to the EU, Sir Tim Barrow has now delivered the signed Article 50 document to the European Council President Donald Tusk.

It is yet unclear how long it will take for the UK and the EU to develop an exit strategy, but the target is to have negotiations completed by October 18. This should clear the way for a UK exit in March 2019.

The Irish agricultural sector will be keeping a keen eye on developments over the next two years, as the UK is one of Ireland’s most important trading partners.

Figures from Bord Bia show that Ireland exported €4.1 billion worth of food, drink and horticulture products to the UK in 2016, representing 37% of Ireland’s total exports.

In particular, 54% of Irish meat and livestock exports, as well as 90% of horticultural and cereal exports, were destined for the UK.

The Minster for Agriculture, Michael Creed, is currently undertaking a number of international visits to focus on the effects of Brexit.

These include meetings with his German, Dutch, Danish, Spanish, Estonian and Maltese counterparts.

Speaking prior to the meetings, Minister Creed said: “One thing that I believe we all have in common is that we face a very negative impact on trade.

“While Ireland is particularly exposed in this regard, because of the scale of our engagement with the UK market, these Member States also have a significant trading relationship with the UK.

“I intend therefore to explore the scope for a common approach in this area, with a view to ensuring that the interests of the agri-food sector are placed at the top of the European agenda in the negotiations,” he said.

Speaking recently, the CEO of Bord Bia, Tara McCarthy, said: “The impacts of Brexit will reach into almost every aspect of our food, drink and horticulture businesses and we are aware there is no one solution that fits all, and it is not the responsibility of any one person or department.

“To help future-proof a business, it is critical for companies to discuss exactly how each risk or challenge will impact the various divisions – from finance and distribution to human resources and innovation,” she said.