With the EU referendum scheduled for 23 June 2016 and latest polls suggesting public opinion is closely divided on Brexit, we take a look at what it could mean for recreational boating.  

What is the process if the UK votes to leave the EU?

Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union provides a mechanism for the voluntary and unilateral withdrawal of a country from the European Union (EU).  

An EU country wishing to withdraw must notify the European Council of its intention to do so. The council is then required to provide guidelines for the conclusion of an agreement setting out the arrangements for that country's withdrawal.  

This agreement would be negotiated by the EU with the departing country, taking into account the framework for the country’s future relationship with the EU.  The agreement is concluded on behalf of the EU by the Council, having obtained the European Parliament's consent.

The EU treaties cease to apply to the country in question from the date of entry into force of the agreement, or within two years of the notification of the withdrawal. The Council may also decide to extend that period.  

In other words, a significant period of time would elapse between the electorate voting to leave the EU, should it choose to do so, and the UK’s eventual exit from the EU.  

So what could it mean for boating?

The specific impact on recreational boating would be determined by the nature of the UK’s subsequent relationship with the EU, which would not be known until the terms of the agreement setting out the arrangements for the UK’s withdrawal had been settled.  

Other considerations, such as whether the UK were to remain within the EEA or seek to maintain access to the European Single Market, might result in there being little practical impact on recreational boating. 

What is the RYA doing?

Should the UK vote to leave the EU then the RYA would, of course, engage with the relevant Government departments in an effort to minimise any impact on recreational boaters.  

We would also produce guidance for our members on the implications of the UK's decision. At this stage in the process, however, any consideration of the potential implications would be purely speculative.

We don’t yet know the terms of any Brexit, nor is it clear which (if any) aspects of the UK’s current relationship with the EU would be maintained by separate agreement or treaty if the UK were to withdraw. Indeed, there are various existing models for such agreements between EU and non-EU nations.

Lobbying role

For as long as UK boaters wish to voyage across the Channel, the Irish Sea or the North Sea (whether or not there is an EU and whether or not the UK is a part of it) the RYA has an important role to play in lobbying European institutions to ensure that boaters may do so with the minimum of regulatory interference.  

It’s worth noting in this context that the European Boating Association is a Europe-wide (not an EU-wide) organisation, as is the UN Economic Commission for Europe (which created the ICC), so our involvement in organisations such as these would not be impacted by whatever decision the UK makes on its membership of the EU.