Brexit and boating - An RYA update


Deal or no deal?

After months of negotiations, the Government lost the meaningful vote on its Brexit deal by 432 votes to 202, following which Theresa May pledged to enter talks with senior MPs from across the House of Commons to assess what revised Brexit deal had a good chance of winning majority support.

However, with the Leader of the Opposition refusing to begin talks unless the PM ruled out no deal and the Prime Minister unwilling to compromise on her Brexit ‘red lines’ for fear of prompting a devastating split in the Conservative Party, hopes of a ‘red-blue’ coming together faded quickly.

Updating the Commons on 21 January, Theresa May pledged that the Government would instead seek further changes to the backstop arrangements – designed to avoid a ‘hard border’ between Northern Ireland and the Republic – contained in the Withdrawal Agreement.

Next steps

The Government’s motion on this ‘Plan B’ will be debated on 29 January, with the Government hoping it will win back significant numbers of Conservative Eurosceptics and the Democratic Unionists, demonstrating to the EU that concessions on the backstop could help secure Parliamentary approval for a Brexit deal. They would then aim to secure these changes in negotiations with the EU and put a revised deal to a second meaningful vote in the Commons in mid-February.

However, the prospect of the EU agreeing to significant changes to the backstop appears slight, whilst amendments tabled by a group of senior backbench MPs and due to be debated next week hold out the prospect of the Government being forced to request an extension of Article 50 should they not win majority backing from MPs for a revised Brexit deal by 26 February.

So, what can we expect to happen next?

Firstly, watch out for whether the Labour leadership backs attempts to allow backbench MPs to ‘take back control’ of Brexit. Their support and the resulting passage of such an amendment next week may force the Government to choose triggering an early election over postponing Brexit, though Labour will be wary of opening up the prospect of similar manoeuvres being used against a minority Labour government in future.

Secondly, with the increasing threat of Brexit being delayed, a large number of Eurosceptic Conservative MPs and some more Labour MPs could switch to supporting a version of the Government’s deal, helping it over the line. However, the size of the Government’s defeat on the meaningful vote means that the number of switchers would have to be sizeable, meaning that the Parliamentary impasse may persist even if scores of additional MPs rally behind the Prime Minister’s deal.

Finally, despite the majority in the Commons against no deal, the legal default currently remains that the UK will leave on 29 March, whether a Withdrawal Agreement has been ratified or not. 

So what does all this mean for recreational boating?

Brexit will undoubtedly have a number of implications for RYA members and the boating community. The RYA is continuing to engage with government and supportive Parliamentarians to ensure that the needs and concerns of the recreational boating community are heard in the Brexit negotiations.

In particular, we are concerned about what the Brexit related bills may mean for border controls, time limits on duration of stay both for individuals and vessels wishing to visit Europe, the future ability of recreational craft and their contents to travel freely throughout Europe without customs restrictions, and the ability of RYA qualification-holders to work in the EU territory.

For more information about the RYA’s Brexit work or for guidance on how to contact your local MP, visit or contact the Cruising, Legal and Government Affairs team at