A new European Union directive aims to abolish daylight saving time, which could result in a one hour time difference between the north and south of Ireland following the UK’s exit from the EU.
Britain’s Brexit backstop problems could get a lot of worse with the European Commission’s announcement that it will create two separate time zones between Northern Ireland and the Republic.
MPs on the Commons European Legislation Scrutiny Committee have been told by Kelly Tolhurst, the Minister for Small Business, who is negotiating for the UK in Brussels, that it will refuse to follow a new European directive abolishing daylight saving time when it comes into force, probably now in 2021.
This will mean that the UK will be out of step with the rest of the 27 EU countries, which will cease to put the clocks forward by an hour at the end of March and back again at the end of October.
In Ireland, this will mean that, for seven months of the year, there will be a one hour time difference between the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland. At present, both the UK and Ireland synchronise their watches every year – moving forward in March and back at the end of October.
The change comes from a proposal to amend a directive dating back to 2000 which synchronised the change between summer and winter time across all 28 EU states. The proposal has already been backed by a large majority in the European Parliament.
Originally, the Commission wanted the change to take effect from next April but the European Parliament wanted it put back a couple of years and ministers on the European Council are now considering whether to do this.
In a letter to MPs, Ms Tolhurst said she was “committed to leaving the EU on 31 October” with “no plans to implement this proposal after we have left”.
The effect of either having darker winter mornings or darker summer evenings – each country can choose whether to go on summer or winter time permanently – has led to a rare unanimity, with the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish Governments backing the UK Government to oppose the change.
The Irish Government is also objecting to the effects of the change if the UK decides not to implement it. The Irish Department for Justice and Equality said it opposed the proposed directive and would not support any proposal which could result in different time zones on the island of Ireland and disruption to the EU Single Market.
It states that “it would be profoundly serious if two different time zones were to exist on the island of Ireland, creating significant unnecessary problems for people living on the border and for the all-island economy”.
However, neither Ireland nor the UK has a veto to stop it – it will be passed by a qualified voting majority and it is likely to go through. If the UK leaves the EU on 31 October, Ireland will be in a weaker position to oppose it.