Richard North, 26/02/2021  

I suppose, if we keep at it long enough, we'll end up with a complete A-Z of enterprises stuffed by Boris's botched Brexit. On Wednesday, we had the architects voicing their complaints and today we have the yachtsmen, who are complaining about the 80-day visa rule.

Sadly, it seems that superyacht crews are also caught up in this, although their problems may evoke little sympathy from Covid-struck Britain.

Nevertheless, many British crew who, until 1 January 2021, had the luxury of being able to travel freely around the EU without many immigration considerations. But Brexit now means that they fall into the same category as other non-EU crew.

With the UK having become a third country, this groups British nationals in with the rest of the world. However, captains seem to be managing. Captains are used to dealing with American, Australian and Kiwi crew coming into Europe – they can enter without a visa but are only allowed to stay in the EU for 90 days within a rolling 180-day period – and the same now applies to British crew.

Essentially British crew, as with any other British or non-EU member state nationals, will now get a stamp in their passport when they arrive in any EU member state, which will start the clock on their 90-day limit within the EU zone (not just in that particular country). When they join a boat, they may then request to get stamped out of the EU and stamped back in when they disembark, meaning the period they are on a crew list does not count towards the 90-day limit.

Despite that, we have Sir Robin Knox-Johnston and the Cruising Association campaigning for sailors to be given a 180-day cruising visa for EU countries. They believe that the future of Britain's cruising sailors is threatened.

Also problematic is a VAT and tariff issue threatening a valuable market in second-hand boats to Ireland, highlighted by the Afloat magazine.

In a somewhat caustic turn of phrase, the magazine reports that, when the greatest trade deal, either in the EU or UK, was being done, "somebody forgot about the minuscule boat market". The resulting fallout from this lack of determination, it says, means brokers and buyers navigating the now choppy waters say there is little official advice to go on, and boats are being lumped in with cars for the official tax treatment.

Thus, a rich pool of well-kept boats at attractive prices, the handy UK market for second-hand boats now has 33 percent in taxes slapped on top since 1 January. Yacht brokers say there are lots of "verbal" discussions going on but very little being put in writing as buyers, sellers along with both Her Majesty’s customs and their EU counterparts, get to grips with some complex new arrangements.

Since the end of the transition period, all boats moved between the EU and UK now require customs declarations at the border and face paying import VAT, although, for many, a ten-month window still exists in which to get boats home without facing this charge.

The rules state that UK VAT-paid yachts must return to the UK within three years of having left the UK or EU and not have changed ownership in the meanwhile to qualify for Returned Goods Relief on VAT. There is a final deadline in place of 31st December 2021 for yachts to return if they departed more than three years ago.

However, when two British owners contacted HM Customs before bringing boats back from the Mediterranean to the Solent, they were told they faced 20 percent in VAT on return. The haulier was cancelled in this instance while the boat owners work out what to do next.

After "y" for yachting, of course, comes "z", but I haven't yet found any zebra importers or exporters who are having particular problems, but there is plenty of time yet.

Back in "a" territory, though, the UK aerospace industry is complaining that it is "in limbo" over how the UK's new aviation regulations interact with those of the EU and global counterparts.

Chief executive of aerospace trade body ADS Group, Paul Everett, explains that getting to grips with the new regulatory environment would not be achieved without filling in gaps in the post-Brexit regime.

"We've identified four key problems, including issues surrounding borders and paperwork, Northern Ireland and chemicals", he says. "But with the UK now operating under a separate aviation safety regime – some of which works okay – it is vital that we get a fix on the detail surrounding how this interacts with the EU regime, as the finer details on this are missing.

"In the absence of these details, some of the key parts of the industry are unable to work and therefore are losing business". Left left unattended, Everett adds. "the additional complexities and all-round Brexit uncertainty would hit the competitiveness of the UK’s aerospace business, which presently ranks fourth in the world behind the US, France and Germany".

"There are fundamental systemic issues" bound to the terms of the TCA that need to be addressed, Everett says. And then there is the way the UK has responded to the deal and the associated requirements".

"A maintenance annex and a change in the relationship surrounding design and approvals would help", he argues, "as would making the new regime understandable both here and internationally".

Everett also thinks that the government needs to foot part of the bill for the UK's new safety regulator, which is within the Civil Aviation Authority. Unlike in Europe, where industry covers 70 percent of the cost tied to its aviation regulatory regime, the new UK rules force businesses to cover 100 percent of the cost.

When it comes to a level playing field, therefore, the UK government is going to the other extreme, burdening British industry with greater cost that their European counterparts have to bear. In "taking back control" it seems a little perverse to use that freedom to disadvantage our own industry.

And that freedom, when it comes to signing up new trade deals, also looks set to yield disappointments. We learn, for instance, that the US has "dashed" British hopes of a speedy agreement, having announced a "review" of the negotiations so far.

This comes with Joe Biden's choice of Katherine Tai as his new trade envoy, who has told a confirmation hearing that there was a need to "review the discussions and the negotiations so far", in the light of all of the "developments" since talks began in 2018.

In the last days of Trump's presidency, the UK unilaterally dropped tariffs against the US over subsidies for aerospace firms, in the hope that the US would respond favourably, but Tai is evidently unimpressed.

She notes that it is almost two-and-a-half years since the Trump administration set out its aims for a trade agreement with the UK, since when the UK has signed "two agreements" with the EU, the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement and the TCA.

"It will be important to me to review the progress in the conversations so far, to review the objectives" in light of all the changes, Tai says. In a sign of things to come,. she adds: "We have all been going through a pandemic reality for the last year – we are still in the midst of it, working to get out of it".

In a scenario full of ironies, one has to recall that Biden's home state is Delaware – one of the US's largest chicken producers. The UK opposition to "chlorinated chicken" is not exactly going to help here. Nick Clegg once insisted that the Democrats had told him "we are not going to sign anything that the chicken farmers of Delaware don’t like". Looks like there isn't going to be any Tai chicken.

However, the news isn't all bad. Johnson has called an "eat British fish campaign", to help the industry combat post-Brexit disruption. Others fear, though, that to Johnson "fish" is just another "f-word", and we all know where that takes us.

Also published on Turbulent Times.

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