RYA update on status of vessels lying in the EU27 at the time of Brexit in the event of ‘no deal’

This content has been copied from the RYA Website There is an update on this link from 2019-04-11

The RYA is in constant dialogue with HMRC in order to obtain definitive answers to the many questions that are of concern to our 112,000 members. In particular, we have been working closely with the UK Government to address specific boater concerns on how their boats will be treated when returning to the UK from EU waters in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

HMRC has now responded to a specific question regarding the treatment of boats returning to the UK from EU27 waters.

The RYA previously received information from the European Commission which indicated that in the event of a no deal Brexit, boats lying in the EU27 at the time of Brexit would retain Union status and boats lying in the UK at the time of a no deal Brexit would lose Union status and have the status of UK goods.

The Commission indicated that there would have been no export and therefore a boat lying in the UK at the time of a no deal Brexit would not be entitled to relief from VAT and import duty at the time of reimport to the EU and therefore VAT and, if applicable, import duty would be payable unless the boat qualifies for temporary admission. As UK legislation is based on the Union Customs Code and the EU Vat Directive, we expressed our concern about the future status of boats lying in the EU27 if we have a no deal Brexit.

As such, we asked HMRC on behalf of RYA members, if boat owners would be able to bring them back to the UK without VAT and import duty (if applicable) becoming payable.

Government response

HM Government’s response is that it is still working towards a deal with the EU, but that plans have been made to replicate Returned Goods Relief (RGR) into domestic law in the event of a no deal. 

RGR allows those resident in the UK to return with their belongings (including pleasure boats) to the UK without paying customs duty or VAT as long as the items have not been changed since their departure and follow the guidance given in the Notice 236 Returned Good Relief.

The UK Government has undertaken that RGR will be available in respect of UK pleasure craft not moored in the UK on EU exit day. They may return to the UK after the exit and be subject to Returned Goods Relief as long as the person responsible has evidence that the VAT was paid on the purchase of the boat in either the UK or the EU. The types of proof needed are shown in Notice 8. VAT accounted for in the UK would need to be shown in respect of vessels purchased after the date of the EU exit.

This was the RYA response to a question raised on behalf of the club; some of this detail is now modified by the latest information above: 

"At present it remains unclear what the situation will be after 29 March 2019. If a deal between the UK and the EU is agreed, then there will be a transition period, from 29 March 2019 until 31 December 2020 (unless otherwise negotiated) during which we understand the UK's current terms of EU membership continue, though without formal UK representation in the EU institutions and with the agreement that the UK will be able to sign (though not implement) trade deals with non-EU countries. If a deal between the UK and the EU is not agreed then the UK will leave the EU in March 2019 and will be treated by the remaining 27 EU Member States (EU27) as any other 3rd country would be treated.

Brexit will affect those things that the EU controls such as border controls and the movement of goods and people. Recreational boating qualifications, boat registration and insurance are generally matters for domestic/national legislation and in theory at least should not be affected. The Racing Rules govern the sport of sailing on the water. They are revised and published every four years by World Sailing. They are not controlled by the EU, so there is no reason that we have identified which would suggest that the impact on boats that are racing will be any different to the impact on boats that are not racing.

The Government has published information relating to passports at https://www.gov.uk/guidance/passport-rules-for-travel-to-europe-after-brexit.  

I hope you will find the following generic information relating to a no deal Brexit useful.

If an EU member state is happy that someone keeps their vessel on its territorial or internal waters now there is no reason that we can see why that should not be the case after Brexit. However we await confirmation that will be the case.

The International Certificate of Competence (ICC) (or to give it its full title International Certificate for Operators of Pleasure Craft) 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 were to develop a skipper licensing for private pleasure craft directive or regulation at some point in the future acceptance of the ICC in EU countries might change. But at present we have no reason to suspect that acceptance of the ICC might change as a direct consequence of Brexit.

Freedom of movement throughout the EU is a basic principal of the EU which applies both to goods made and supplied in the Union and to goods which have been imported and released for free circulation. Boats which have the customs status of Union goods (Union status) may move, without being subject to a customs procedure, from one point to another within the customs territory of the Union, and temporarily out of that territory by sea without alteration of their customs status provided that their Union status is proven. In order for a boat to have Union status VAT must be accounted for and if the boat has been imported any applicable customs duty must also have been paid. The owner is then able to move the boat freely through the EU.

The RYA has been in discussions with Government and Parliamentarians to emphasise the importance of boats maintaining the status of Union goods after the UK exits the EU. However, unless an alternative arrangement is agreed in a deal between the UK and the EU, we anticipate that the boat’s status after Brexit will depend on its location at the point in time where the UK leaves the EU.

In the event of no deal our assumption (based on information supplied by the European Commission) is that if a boat has Union status and is in a port or the internal or territorial waters of the EU27 at the point in time where the UK leaves the EU, it will keep its Union status. It will retain that status while it remains in the EU27 and if it is exported and returns to the customs territory of the Union, assuming the conditions of re-import (in accordance with both the Union Customs Code and the VAT Directive) are met, relief from import duty would be granted and an exemption on the payment of VAT should be applicable.   

Means of proving Union status are detailed in the Union Customs Code Implementing Regulations. Of the documents listed, an invoice or a paper T2L are the most suitable for recreational boats. In the event of a no-deal Brexit it may be beneficial for owners of boats lying in the EU at the time of Brexit to have obtained a T2L from HMRC. It may also be prudent to retain evidence that the boat was in the EU at the time of Brexit.  Note: HMRC will only issue a T2L with a UK address.

We have information provided by the European Commission which indicates that in the event of a no deal Brexit, if a boat is in the UK (or UK territorial waters) at the point in time where the UK leaves the EU, it will assume UK status and will lose its Union status. The Commission’s view is that the boat will not have been exported from the EU and therefore if the owner wanted to import it into the EU at a later date, it would not be entitled to relief from VAT and import duty; any evidence the owner previously had (such as an invoice or T2L) would therefore no longer demonstrate Union status.

In theory if a boat is outside the UK and UK territorial waters at the point in time where the UK leaves the EU, VAT and import duty will become payable when the boat returns to the UK, unless it qualifies for relief from VAT and import duty on its return or it is eligible for temporary admission (which would not be available to a boat registered in the UK or to somebody established in the UK).

In the event of no deal a UK registered boat which does not have Union Status entering the EU27 may be able to claim Temporary Admission. Boats without the status of Union goods which are registered outside the EU and which are owned by someone who is established outside the EU are entitled to 18 months Temporary Admission. After 18 months they must either be imported or leave the EU. If they leave the EU they can return almost immediately and start a further 18 months Temporary Admission. If the boat is imported into the EU (paying VAT and import duty) it gains the status of Union goods and the 18 month restriction no longer applies. The immigration situation for the owner is however different and the owner is often permitted to spend significantly less time in the Schengen area than the boat can spend in the EU – for 3rd country nationals a restriction of 90 days in any 180 days period applies.

There could be limitations on the number of days that UK citizens who are not normally resident in the EU post Brexit can spend in the community area while visiting their boats, but again we assume that UK Citizens who are normally resident in an EU 27 Country will be able to stay without penalty although there may well be caveats – length of time etc.  It all depends on how this is resolved in the negotiations. The RYA has been lobbying 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.

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 equipment, requirements to wear lifejackets etc. Free movement for the vessel is linked to the vessel having Union status. 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 as a result of Brexit alone.

We cannot however be sure what will transpire as these are of course just our assumptions, based on our knowledge of the legislation as it currently stands. As we get more information that is reliable we will publish it on the website, in the RYA Newsletters or in the RYA Magazine. A summary of our work to date can be found on the RYA website at www.rya.org.uk/go/brexit and our thoughts on what the situation will be in the event of a no-deal Brexit can be found at https://www.rya.org.uk/knowledge-advice/current-affairs/Pages/no-deal-Brexit-scenario.aspx.

Kind regards


Carol Paddison

Cruising Advisor

Royal Yachting Association"


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