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    Brexit - what happens next?

    Page updated 30/10/2020 to reflect information provided by the European Commission and 4/11/2020 with new information provided by HMRC. 

    Recreational boating after the end of the transition period

    Since the UK left the EU at 11pm on 31 January 2020 there has been a transition period which was designed to provide time for the new relationship between the UK and the EU to be agreed while ensuring that we would only need to adapt to new rules once a future deal is agreed.

    The UK remains in both the EU Customs Union and the Single Market for the duration of the transition period. So, although the UK has left the EU so far very little has changed.

    The transition period will end at 11pm UTC on 31 December 2020.

    What is the RYA doing on behalf of recreational boaters?

    The RYA continues to highlight the priorities of the recreational boating and small commercial vessel sectors in our discussions with government and Members of Parliament who have an interest in and are sympathetic to our sector.

    We will publish updates on our work whenever there is useful information we are able to share.

    Frequently asked questions

    Will I still be able to rely on my ICC and other RYA certificates when boating in the EU27?

    Evidence of Competence for recreational boating is generally a matter for domestic/national legislation. A vessel must comply with the legislation of its country of registration (Flag State) wherever in the world it may be. When you visit another country, in most circumstances (as detailed in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea) you can be required additionally to comply with the maritime legislation of the visited country (the Coastal State). Where evidence of competence is required by the legislation of the Flag State, pleasure boaters must comply with those regulations. Additionally, when in the waters of another country you must also comply with any requirements of the Coastal State. Therefore whether acceptance of UK certificates issued by the RYA will change with the end of the transition period, when the UK ceases to be treated as an EU Member State, will be determined by the legislation of the country in which the boat is registered and the country in which the boat is being used.

    - Non-professional use of RYA certificates

    The International Certificate for Operators of Pleasure Craft (ICC) is not an EU document. It is issued under the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) Inland Transport Committee Working Party on Inland Water Transport Resolution 40. It is this resolution which details how and to whom the ICC may be issued, the syllabus requirements, the layout of the certificate and it also lists the countries which have notified the UNECE Secretariat that they have accepted the resolution. The UK Government has accepted Resolution 40 and has authorised the RYA to issue the ICC on its behalf.

    If the EU was to develop a skipper licensing directive or regulation for private pleasure craft at some point in the future, acceptance of the ICC in EU countries might change. But at this stage we have no reason to suspect that acceptance of the ICC, in countries that have adopted Resolution 40, might change as a direct consequence of the transition period ending.

    We do have some concerns relating to the acceptance of certificates issued by the RYA in Spain after the end of the transition period. We understand that the national legislation may not allow for UK certificates to be used on Spanish flagged boats once the UK is no longer treated as if it were still an EU Member State. We are looking into this. 

    - Using RYA certificates professionally

    RYA professional qualifications (e.g. commercially endorsed certificates of competence) are accepted by the UK Government for use on UK-flagged commercial yachts but such qualifications are not, and never have been, STCW-compliant certificates.

    As such, RYA professional qualifications are not subject to the mutual-recognition mechanism envisaged in the STCW convention and do not fall within the scope of the EU Directive on the mutual recognition of seafarers’ certificates issued by member states which in particular states that “Every Member State shall accept [STCW] certificates of proficiency and documentary evidence issued by another Member State, or under its authority, in hard copy or in digital format, for the purpose of allowing seafarers to serve on ships flying its flag”.

    RYA professional qualifications are accepted by several non-UK national administrations for use on vessels flying their flags but this is a matter for each of those administrations individually and there is no obligation on them to do so. The UK leaving the EU will not of itself necessarily change this position, nor will it have any impact on the acceptability of RYA professional qualifications to the UK Government for use on UK-flagged commercial yachts.

    However, in order to overcome problems where some overseas administrations do not or in future will not recognise RYA qualifications, holders of commercially endorsed YMO Qualifications can apply to the MCA to upgrade to a Master (200 GT)/OOW (500 GT) Certificate of Competency on a voluntary basis.

    Does it matter where my boat is lying at 11pm UTC on 31 December 2020?

    Yes. The location of your boat at 11pm UTC on 31 December 2020 will determine its future VAT and customs status.

    It is recommended that you obtain and retain documentation which can be used to demonstrates the vessel’s location at the time the transition period ends.

    - Boat lying in Great Britain at 11pm UTC on 31 December 2020

    When the transition period ends Great Britain will no longer be part of the Customs Territory of the EU. Please see the note further down the page regarding Northern Ireland.

    Recreational boats lying in GB at the time the transition period ends will cease to be in free circulation in the Customs Territory of the EU. They will no longer have Union status and will be treated by the UK as ‘domestic goods’.  

    In order to evidence this status of ‘domestic goods’ in the future the owner will need to continue to retain evidence of the boat’s VAT paid status and must also obtain and keep evidence to demonstrate the boat’s location at the end of the transition period. 

    - Boat lying in Northern Ireland at 11pm UTC on 31 December 2020

    The UK’s only land border with the EU is the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. The UK and the EU agreed that a specific solution was needed to reconcile the different interests at play and as a result the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland Protocol formed part of the Withdrawal Agreement.

    Although we know that Northern Ireland will be part of the UK customs territory, the implementation of the Protocol is still under negotiation therefore, at present, it is not possible to provide definitive advice on the future status of boats lying in Northern Ireland when the transition period ends.

    - Boat lying in the remaining 27 EU Member States (EU27) at 11pm UTC on 31 December 2020

    A boat which is in free circulation (i.e. it has Union status and is lying in the EU27 at the time the transition period ends) will remain in free circulation for as long as it remains in the EU27, as long as it can be proven that the boat was lying in the EU27. 

    It is essential that you obtain and retain documentation which demonstrates the vessel’s location at the time the transition period ends. When we asked the European Commission about the evidence an owner might need to retain to demonstrate the location of the vessel at the time the UK leaves the Union, we were advised that there is no specific document or form and that the boater should provide evidence (if requested) in such form that customs would consider appropriate in their particular situation.

    This is also applicable to boats lying in the Sovereign Base Areas of Akrotiri and Dhekelia (Cyprus) which will remain part of the customs territory of the EU after the end of the transition period. 

    - Boat lying in a territory of an EU27 country which is part of the customs territory of the EU but excluded for VAT purposes at 11pm UTC on 31 December 2020

    If, at the end of the transition period, a boat is lying in a territory of an EU country which is part of the Customs Territory of the EU but which is not part of the EU for VAT purposes (e.g. Canary Islands, Guadeloupe, Martinique, French Guiana, Réunion, Åland Islands, Mayotte, Saint-Martin – French part), its Union status (if it was held in that territory) will be retained.

    Please see the sections on taking your boat to the EU27 from 1 January 2021 and  arriving in the UK from abroad from 1 January 2021 for further information.

    - Boat lying in a Crown Dependency at 11pm UTC on 31 December 2020

    During the transition period the Crown Dependencies (Isle of Man and the Channel Islands, that is, the Bailiwick of Jersey and the Bailiwick of Guernsey (including Guernsey and its dependencies)) are part of the customs territory of the EU. When the transition period ends the Crown Dependencies will no longer be part of the customs territory of the EU. Therefore a boat which is lying in a Crown Dependency at the end of the transition period will no longer have Union status. 

    The Crown Dependencies will not be part of the UK Customs Territory after the end of the transition period. A boat lying in a Crown Dependency at the end of the transition period will not be treated by the UK as ‘domestic goods’.   

    - Boat lying outside the UK and the EU27 at 11pm UTC on 31 December 2020

    In order to return to the UK or the EU27 without paying VAT and import duty, the owners of boats which have been exported from the EU before the transition period ends will need to meet the conditions for relief from VAT and import duty for the customs territory they are entering.

    You will not resume Union status if you enter the UK. Similarly, you will not gain [UK] 'domestic goods’ status if you enter the EU27.

    This includes boats which were lying in the British Overseas Territory (Anguilla; Bermuda; British Antarctic Territory; British Indian Ocean Territory; British Virgin Islands; Cayman Islands; Falkland Islands; Gibraltar; Montserrat; Pitcairn, Henderson, Ducie and Oeno Islands; St Helena and St Helena Dependencies (Ascension and Tristan da Cunha); South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands; and The Turks & Caicos Islands) which are not part of the EU customs territory. 

    Arriving in the UK from abroad from 1 January 2021.

    When you arrive in the UK from abroad with your boat, the default position will be that VAT and import duty are payable on the current value of the boat. This will be the case unless you are entitled to relief.

    The UK legislation which sets out the reliefs from import VAT and duty, has not yet been laid. However, advice received from HMRC and HM Treasury indicates that Returned Goods Relief (RGR) will be replicated in UK law.

    HMRC has advised that the general rules for RGR for relief from both import VAT and duty will be that the goods must have been exported from the UK and return within 3 years of export. Additionally, for VAT RGR to apply, the exporter and importer must be the same person and any VAT due must have been previously paid in the UK.

    - Not resident in the UK 

    If you are not resident in the UK and your boat is registered outside the UK it is likely that you will be eligible to visit the UK, for recreation and pleasure purposes under temporary admission.

    - UK resident with boat which was lying in the EU27 at 11pm UTC on 31 December 2020

    To enter the UK without paying VAT and import duty you will need to be eligible for relief. For most people this will be as returned goods.

    At present the information we have received from HMRC is that a boat owned by somebody who is established in the UK, which arrives in the UK after the transition period ends (23:00 UTC 31 December 2020) will only be entitled to return as returned goods without the owner having to pay VAT and import duty if the boat has been in the UK in the preceding 3 years. There are other criteria which must also be met relating to VAT having been accounted for, the boat having been exported by the same person as is importing it and the boat being in the same condition as when it was exported.

    On 03 November the government confirmed that UK legislation will be amended to cover all goods that have left the UK prior to the end of the transition period and it agreement to a one-year period of grace from 1 January to 31 December 2021. Boat owners will only need to demonstrate that their vessels were in the UK at some point. Further clarification on legislation covering the period of grace is provided below:

    Extension to the three-year rule

    The Government have said that RGR applies to all goods meeting specific conditions, therefore any extension to the three-year rule would need to apply to all goods. In response to our concerns that some pleasure craft may have been in the EU for several years and may not meet the normal three-year rule for returning goods to qualify for RGR, the government has agreed to a one-year period of grace from 1 January to 31 December 2021. Under current rules, if any goods are returned after the stipulated time period, HMRC can consider any special circumstances which prevented the goods from being returned to the UK on a case by case basis.  As such, the government does not consider it appropriate or necessary to extend the three-year rule any further. 

    Date of export

    The one-year period of grace agree by the government mitigates the need for owners to provide evidence of the actual date of export from the UK, they will only need to demonstrate that the vessel was in the UK at some point. 

    Extending the relief to pleasure craft that have never been in the UK

    The legislation will apply to all goods that have left the UK.  To expand this to include items that have never been in the UK would risk a range of goods being imported under RGR that would normally be subject to import duties. 

    Repairs and maintenance

    One of the conditions of RGR is that goods should be re-imported in the same condition as they were on export. Running repairs and maintenance have always been allowed subject to the goods not being exported specifically to be repaired.

    Ownership

    A key condition of VAT RGR is that the returning items must not have been sold or changed ownership.  This is to prevent a sale being made outside the UK territorial waters and therefore being outside the scope of VAT. If a vessel is re-imported during 2021, it will be sufficient to show that any sale or transfer or ownership was made in compliance with VAT legislation. 

    - UK resident with boat which was lying in one of the Crown Dependencies at 11pm UTC on 31 December 2020

    The Crown Dependencies are not part of the UK Customs Territory, however the UK has signed customs arrangements with the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man which ensure that customs duty will not be liable on trade between the Crown Dependencies and the UK after EU treaties cease to apply.   

    Import VAT will not be payable on boats imported into the UK from the Isle of Man as the Isle of Man is part of the UK’s VAT territory.

    The Channel Islands do not align with the UK on VAT and therefore import VAT is due on imports from the Channel Islands, unless the owner is eligible for relief.

    - UK resident with boat which was lying in Gibraltar or the British Overseas Territories at 11pm UTC on 31 December 2020

    Both customs duty and import VAT will liable on imports into the UK from Gibraltar and the Overseas Territories, unless the owner is eligible for relief.

    - UK resident with boat which was lying in UK at 11pm UTC on 31 December 2020

    A boat, which was lying in the UK at 11pm UTC on 31 December 2020, which is taken out of the UK (exported) will need to be able to demonstrate eligibility for returned goods relief (RGR) in the future, if the boat and the owner wishes eligible for relief from paying import VAT and duty on return.

    HMRC has confirmed that where VAT was paid in the EU 27 rather than the UK, if a boat which has domestic [UK] status as a result of being in free circulation in the UK at the end of the transition period, leaves the UK (i.e. is exported from the UK) on its return the owner will be eligible for RGR on the basis that EU VAT had been paid.

    Although we know that Northern Ireland will be part of the UK customs territory, the implementation of the Protocol is still under negotiation therefore, at present, it is not possible to provide definitive advice on the future status of boats lying in Northern Ireland.

    - UK resident with boat which was outside the UK and the EU27 at 11pm UTC on 31 December 2020

    The UK legislation which sets out the reliefs from import VAT and duty, has not yet been laid. However, advice received from HMRC and HM Treasury indicate that Returned Goods Relief (RGR) will be replicated in UK law. If you arrive in the UK within 3 years of the boat having left the EU (i.e. within 3 years of the boat being exported from the EU), RGR can apply providing that EU VAT has been paid.

    Assuming you meet the conditions for UK RGR your boat will be treated as ‘domestic goods’ by the UK. You will not resume Union status if you enter the UK.

    Taking your boat to the EU27 from 1 January 2021

    - National interpretation and implementation

    The European Commission has provided guidance on the legislation. The practical interpretation and implementation of that legislation is the responsibility of the authorities of the country in which you are entering the EU27. 

    National Tax Websites - https://ec.europa.eu/taxation_customs/national-tax-websites_en

    National Customs Websites - https://ec.europa.eu/taxation_customs/national-customs-websites_en 

    - Boat lying in UK at 11pm UTC on 31 December 2020

    According to information received from the European Commission on 30 October 2020, and contrary to previous advice, the flag state of a boat which was lying in the UK may have some bearing on its eligibility to re-enter the EU27 as returned goods. 

    The European Commission has confirmed that, although a boat which was lying in the UK at the end of the transition period will lose its Union status as soon as the transition period ends, if the previous Union status can be proven upon arrival in the Union, the Union status can be regained. How this is achieved is different for EU registered boats and non-EU registered boats. 

    • Non-EU registered (flagged) boats

    If the boat is not registered in the EU, upon re-entering the EU customs territory it will be treated as any other third-country goods and to acquire Union status it will need to be placed under release for free circulation in the EU. 

    If you are established (habitually resident) in the UK you will become eligible to take your boat, which must be registered outside the EU27, to the EU27 for up to 18 months under temporary admission (conditions apply). For further information see EU returned goods relief and temporary admission.

    • EU registered boats

    If the yacht is registered in the EU and on the condition that the requirements of Article 203 of the Union Customs Code (UCC) are met, the boat may be released for free circulation as returned goods according to Article 203 UCC on the condition that the declarant is established in the customs territory of the Union. The customs declaration may be lodged orally.

    Where the declarant is not established in the EU, the possibility of an exception will need to be checked with customs. 

    Caution: 

    Please think carefully before changing the registration of your boat to an EU member state: 

    • If customs turn down the possibility of an exception to the declarant being established in the EU, a boat which is registered in the EU will still not be eligible for Temporary Admission. You may therefore end up in a worse position than if your boat remains UK flagged.
    • If you register your boat in another country you then have to comply with that country’s legislation. That could entail having that country’s evidence of competence (which might involve a test in the country’s language), compulsory carriage of equipment, etc. 

    - Boat lying in the EU27 at 11pm UTC on 31 December 2020

    A boat which is in free circulation (i.e. it has Union status and is lying in the EU27 at the time the transition period ends) will remain in free circulation for as long as it remains in the EU27, as long as it can be proven that the boat was lying in EU.

    Please see the section on a boat lying outside the UK and the EU27 at 11pm UTC on 31 December 2020 for information on the situation if you later take your boat out of the EU27 and subsequently want to return. 

    - Boat lying in a territory of an EU27 country which is part of the customs territory of the EU but excluded for VAT purposes at 11pm UTC on 31 December 2020

    If, at the end of the transition period, a boat is lying in a territory of an EU country which is part of the Customs Territory of the EU but excluded for VAT purposes (e.g. Canary Islands, Guadeloupe, Martinique, French Guiana, Réunion, Åland Islands, Mayotte, Saint-Martin – French part), its Union status (if it was held in those territories) will be kept. When the boat returns to the EU27 from such territories into the EU, however, VAT and other taxes must be paid, and the customs status of Union goods of those boats needs to be proven.

    - Boat lying in a Crown Dependency at 11pm UTC on 31 December 2020

    The Crown Dependencies (Isle of Man and the Channel Islands, that is, the Bailiwick of Jersey and the Bailiwick of Guernsey (including Guernsey and its dependencies)) are currently considered part of the customs territory of the EU. When the transition period ends that will cease to be the case and a boat which is lying in a Crown Dependency which had Union status will no longer have Union status.  

    - Boat lying outside the UK and the EU27 at 11pm UTC on 31 December 2020

    This includes boats which were lying in the British Overseas Territory (Anguilla; Bermuda; British Antarctic Territory; British Indian Ocean Territory; British Virgin Islands; Cayman Islands; Falkland Islands; Gibraltar; Montserrat; Pitcairn, Henderson, Ducie and Oeno Islands; St Helena and St Helena Dependencies (Ascension and Tristan da Cunha); South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands; and The Turks & Caicos Islands) which are not part of the customs territory of the EU. 

    If your boat had Union status when it left the EU. It is our understanding that as long as your boat is not in the UK at the end of the transition period and you meet the conditions for returned goods relief (RGR) you should be able to re-enter the customs territory of the EU without VAT and import duty becoming payable. 

    When asked if somebody who is not established in the EU27 can return to the EU27 with a boat which had Union status when it left the EU and be permitted to re-enter the EU27 without paying VAT and import duty by meeting the provisions for relief as returned goods, the European Commission advised that from customs point of view, any goods which had the Union status and were taken out of the customs territory of the EU prior to the end of the transition period and return to the Union customs territory after the end of that period (i.e. they have lost their Union status), are eligible for duty relief as returned goods, under the conditions of Articles 203 UCC and 158 UCC DA. If this is the case, they should also be exempted from VAT according to Article 143(1)(e) to the VAT Directive, i.e. the re-importation in the state in which it was exported has to be done by the person who exported the boat.

    Future validity in the EU27 of documents issued by HMRC 

    - After the end of the transition period, can paperwork (such as a VAT invoice, T2L, customs opinion letter or other supporting documentation) issued in or by the UK be used to demonstrate the Union status of pleasure craft? 

    According to the European Commission: 

    • Whilst in the EU27

    The documentation (such as a T2L, customs opinion letter or other supporting documentation) issued by the UK before the end of the transition period shall not be valid in the EU as of the end of the transition period. Therefore, for a boat lying in the EU at the end of the transition period, the person concerned will need to submit a new request to obtain a proof of Union status to one of the Customs authorities in the EU. Regarding the VAT invoice, if there is a proof that the VAT has been paid in the EU before the end of the transition period, then this proof may be used in order to demonstrate the Union status of the craft. In case this payment can be verified on the invoice, then the invoice itself may be used in order to demonstrate the Union status of the craft. 

    • When crossing the frontier of the customs territory of the Union (the EU27) as returned goods 

    For a craft crossing the frontier of the EU customs territory, a T2L, a customs opinion letter or other supporting documentation issued by the UK before the end of the transition period shall not be valid in the EU as of the end of that period and will not be able to be used in order to demonstrate that the craft had the Union status before it was taken out of the EU. Regarding the VAT invoice, if there is a proof that the VAT has been paid in the EU before the end of the transition period, then this proof may be used in order to demonstrate the Union status of the craft. In case this payment can be verified on the invoice, then the invoice itself may be used in order to demonstrate the Union status of the craft. In case the VAT payment in the EU is verified, the craft can be dealt with as a returned good upon its re-entering into the EU. Customs formalities for re-importation shall be carried out.

    - Can somebody who is not established in the EU27 own a vessel with Union status and keep it in the EU27?

    According to the European Commission somebody who is not established in the EU27 can own a vessel with Union status and keep it in the EU27. As long as the vessel remains in the customs territory of the Union, the presumption of Union status applies. For customs purposes, the ownership of a vessel is not relevant.

    - Can I pay VAT and import duty on arrival in the EU27 to import my boat and have it released for free circulation? 

    The European Commission has advised that any person wishing to place goods under a given customs procedure, e.g. release for free circulation, shall indicate it in the prescribed form and manner by lodging a customs declaration. As a general rule, when it comes to declaring goods for release for free circulation, the declarant has to be established in the customs territory of the Union. Therefore, in case a person established outside the EU wishes to lodge a customs declaration in order to release a recreational craft for free circulation into the EU, then this person shall use an indirect representative established in the EU, who will play the role of the declarant. However, Article 170(3)(b) UCC provides for a derogation from this general rule provided that the customs authorises consider this to be justified.

    - Do I need to change my country of registration in order to keep my boat in an EU 27 country after the end of the transition period?

    Registration of a privately owned recreational boat is generally a matter for domestic/national legislation. Free movement for the vessel is linked to the vessel having Union status (i.e. it has been released for free circulation). As long as it is lying in the EU27 on the day that the UK leaves the EU, based on the Union Customs Code its status should not change just because UK’s relationship with the EU has changed. For that reason, if an EU member state is happy that you keep your UK registered vessel on its territorial or internal waters now there is no reason that we can see why that should not be the case after the end of the transition period.

    If you are resident in the UK, at the moment, the RYA does not believe there will be any advantage to registering your boat in another EU country. If you decide to register your boat in another country you will then have to comply with that country’s legislation. That could entail having that country’s evidence of competence (which might involve a test in the country’s language), compulsory carriage of equipment, etc.

    Immigration and visas for travel to the EU27 after the end of the transition period.

    - I’m a UK Citizen and am not resident in an EU27 country, after the end of the transition period will I still be able to spend the whole summer on my boat in the EU27?

    The UK Government has published information regarding travelling to the EU from 1 January 2021 at https://www.gov.uk/visit-europe-1-january-2021. Additionally, country by country information is available at https://www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice.

    You will be able to travel to countries in the Schengen area for up to 90 days in any 180 day period without a visa for purposes such as tourism. This is a rolling 180 day period.  

    If you enter the dates you are thinking about being in the Schengen Area in the calculator of travel days remaining provided by the European Commission, you will be able to see whether your plans are possible within the 90 days in any 180 day period restriction.  

    Different rules will apply to Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus and Romania.  

    The RYA has been lobbying hard to ensure that the inadequacy of the Schengen visa time frames for UK residents who keep their boats in the EU and who wish to cruise in excess of 90 days on Community waters is understood.

    We are asking members who would be impacted by the restriction of only being able to spend 90 days in any 180 days in the Schengen area to write to their MP and urge the UK Government to seek reciprocity, as UK allows visitors to stay for up to six months.

    Guidance on contacting your MP.

    Further information

    If you are an RYA member and you wish to contact the RYA regarding Brexit please email brexit@rya.org.uk

    Government information on the transition period can be found at www.gov.uk/transition

    Government information on travelling to Europe from 1 January 2021, including information about travelling with pets and mobile roaming can be found at www.gov.uk/visit-europe-1-january-2021.

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