For many in the UK business community, the coming months will be crucial in ensuring that their interests and concerns are front and centre of the Government's thinking as Ministers head for negotiations in Brussels.
This imperative is no less important for the recreational boating sector, and we have already been working hard this year to ensure that the final Brexit deal works for boaters around the UK.
Earlier this month, the Prime Minister secured an agreement from other EU leaders to move talks away from the terms of the UK's withdrawal and onto trade.
Attention has now turned to what kind of long-term relationship the UK wants with the EU, and what the remaining member states might be willing to sign off.
From our discussions with our members, three key issues have emerged as being at the forefront of boaters' minds as we approach 'Brexit Day'. These are:
The treatment of recreational craft as 'Union goods', allowing continuous free navigation around the waters of the EU
The way in which voyages on recreational boats are treated under the new border control system introduced by the UK Government after Brexit
The ability of UK citizens who have RYA qualifications to travel freely to and from the EU for work - something currently undertaken by a significant proportion of the 19,507 RYA qualified instructors
In conversations with officials in key Government Departments and MPs who have a significant boating and marine industry presence in their constituency, we have been highlighting the importance of the Government safeguarding the benefits which boaters enjoy under the current terms of the UK's EU membership, and the inconvenience and economic damage which could be caused should these not be preserved beyond March 2019.
We were pleased to see the Government recently commit to two measures in particular which will help UK boaters after Brexit.
Firstly, we welcome the deal reached by the Prime Minister with the EU earlier this month which guarantees the rights of UK citizens living in the EU after Brexit, and vice versa. This will bring significant re-assurance to RYA qualification holders based in our 249 training centres throughout the EU, as well as the many EU citizens who work for marine businesses in the UK.
Secondly, the Immigration Minister, Brandon Lewis, has confirmed in writing to us that there will be no immigration controls on sea voyages between Ireland and Northern Ireland after Brexit, maintaining the integrity of the Common Travel Area and avoiding significant disruption to the many UK and Irish boaters who currently enjoy travelling freely between the two countries.
These announcements provide a good foundation for our work as we enter 2018, but there is still much to do next year to safeguard the freedoms which recreational boaters currently enjoy beyond Brexit. Our five priorities are as follows:
Persuading the Government to negotiate an agreement that recreational craft which currently enjoy Union goods status should retain this status post-Brexit (regardless of whether they are kept in UK or EU waters) and have a means by which they can readily prove they have this status
Ensuring that UK recreational craft without Union goods status can continue to visit the EU after Brexit without being subject to the 18-month restriction on Temporary Admission procedures for relief on customs duties and VAT, provided they do not change ownership. In this respect we believe they should be treated as personal possessions, not traded goods
Ensuring that any new border controls proposed by the Government do not require boaters to obtain prior permission before entering or leaving the UK, do not compromise navigational safety or restrict freedom of navigation, and that any proposals for visa controls take into account the nature of recreational boating tourism
Supporting the creation of a system enabling UK nationals entering the Schengen Area to stay for periods in excess of 90 days in 180 (the current time limit for non-EU nationals)
Pushing for the introduction of a scheme which allows UK citizens holding RYA qualifications to continue to be able to visit EU member states on business or for seasonal work relevant to those qualifications without having to obtain a visa
Building on our work throughout 2017, we are currently helping to organise a Westminster Hall debate in Parliament early in the New Year to further reinforce to Ministers the importance of treating the issues above as priorities as the Brexit negotiations proceed.
Through our Brexit-related engagement and other ongoing initiatives, such as 'Push the Boat Out', a significant number of MPs are already aware of the importance of the recreational boating sector to their constituencies and the UK as a whole.
However, there is still more we can do to spread the word.
Supporting our work
We are encouraging all our members and supporters to contact their local MP, once a date for the forthcoming Westminster Hall debate is confirmed, to encourage them to attend the debate and support us in highlighting to the Government throughout next year the importance of safeguarding the future of the recreational boating sector in the Brexit negotiations.
We will be in touch in the coming months with further details as to how you can get involved.
2018 is set to be yet another highly significant political year for the UK. By this point in 2018, we will have a much clearer idea as to what the future UK-EU relationship will look like, and how this will impact boaters across the country.
Over the next 12 months, the RYA will continue to push Government to secure a Brexit deal that works for recreational boaters across the UK.