After months of negotiations, the Government published its draft Withdrawal Agreement with the EU as well as an outline political declaration on the long-term UK-EU relationship on 14 November. A more detailed political declaration followed on 22 November. Despite strong opposition from some Conservative MPs to the Withdrawal Agreement, as well as high-profile resignations from the Cabinet, the deal was signed off by EU national leaders when they met for a special European Council summit on 25 November.

The deal will now have to be approved by a ‘meaningful vote’ in the House of Commons – likely to take place on 12 December - and legislation introduced to incorporate the Withdrawal Agreement into UK law before the UK’s departure from the EU on 29 March 2019.

The three main areas covered in the Withdrawal Agreement are the financial settlement which the UK has agreed to pay to the EU, the rights of EU citizens living in the UK and UK citizens living in the EU after Brexit and ‘backstop’ arrangements to ensure that no ‘hard border’ emerges between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

The backstop would come into place should no alternative arrangements be agreed between the UK and EU before the end of the implementation period (currently expected to be on 1 January 2021) to avoid a hard border.

The provisions of the Withdrawal Agreement – in particular the protocol on Northern Ireland – contain a number of anticipated customs arrangements which would impact on recreational boaters.

Key aspects of the draft Withdrawal Agreement for the recreational boating community are as follows:

  • Goods that are under a customs movement that begins before the end of the implementation period and finishes afterwards will continue to be treated as though they are under EU law. This also applies to VAT and excise treatments for goods that are midway through an intra-EU customs movement that begins before the end of the implementation period and finishes afterwards
  • The backstop creates a Single Customs Territory between the UK and EU. Though this would maintain Northern Ireland within the same customs territory as the rest of the UK, Northern Ireland alone will be obliged to apply the Union Customs Code (UCC) in full under the backstop. Once a good has completed all required compliance under the UCC, it can then be released as a ‘Union good’ for free circulation
  • Northern Ireland will, under the backstop, continue to apply a limited amount of EU law which includes regulatory requirements for the movement of goods, as well as EU legislation on industrial, environmental and agricultural goods
  • Northern Ireland will also continue to apply certain EU VAT and excise rules with respect to the movement of cross-border trade in goods, though Northern Ireland will remain part of the UK’s VAT area, with HMRC continuing to be responsible for the operation and collection of VAT, and Parliament for the setting of VAT rates

Although the RYA welcomes the Government’s efforts to negotiate a relationship between the UK and EU under the backstop which seeks to minimise customs and regulatory barriers, there are a number of areas where we will continue to engage with government to ensure that the detail of the backstop, as well as how it is implemented, do not impose any additional restrictions on recreational boaters. These include:

  • Provisions under Article 6 of the Northern Ireland Protocol in the Withdrawal Agreement, which may allow the EU to impose tariffs or other restrictions on the movement of goods into or out of its customs territory in cases of non-compliance by the United Kingdom where it considers this necessary to protect the integrity of the single market. This raises the prospect of new customs checks being introduced in the Irish Sea
  • The deeper customs and regulatory relationship which Northern Ireland would have with the EU compared to Great Britain under the backstop would likely result in documentary requirements as well as regulatory and customs controls being necessary for goods moving between Great Britain and Northern Ireland or between Great Britain and the EU. Additional agreements on the operation of customs and VAT procedures, as well as other areas, under the backstop would likely be required to mitigate this

Notwithstanding concerns around these areas, the RYA was pleased to receive recently written confirmation from the Government that they expect agreements to be reached during negotiations on the future UK-EU relationship to maintain the ‘Union goods’ status of craft currently enjoying this status, or otherwise arranging for future customs relief on duties and VAT for craft entering EU waters.

The other two key areas where RYA has been lobbying government in relation to Brexit – border controls on boats and the position of seasonal workers in RYA’s training centres – are expected to be dealt with as part of the negotiations on the future UK-EU relationship. The Government’s proposals for the UK’s post-Brexit immigration policy are also due to be published in the form of a White Paper during w/c 3 December.

The RYA welcomes the commitments made in the political declaration published on 22 November to negotiate a long-term UK-EU relationship on free movement of people which includes consideration of arrangements for those wishing to enter and stay in the EU for the purpose of training. We will continue to engage with the Government to make the case for provision for those working in RYA training centres in the EU to be made within the final agreement.

At a recent Brexit workshop at the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, it was agreed that government will progress an initiative to help the RYA and the British Association of Snowsport Instructors (BASI) on the issue of instructor qualifications, with a meeting to be arranged with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy to take this forward.

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. RYA members and supporters may also wish to contact their local MP to highlight the importance of safeguarding the future of the recreational boating sector in the Brexit negotiations. If they do, they will find a handy template letter, along with an MP briefing paper and guidance on how to approach MPs on the RYA Current Affairs hub at www.rya.org.uk/go/brexit.

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