Should the UK continue to ‘spring forward’ and ‘fall back’? Lords EU Committee report investigates

Should the UK continue to ‘spring forward’ and ‘fall back’? Lords EU Committee report investigates

“The Government must fully assess the implications for the UK if the EU goes ahead with proposals to end seasonal clock changes. The public and affected stakeholders, such as the aviation industry, should be consulted as part of this assessment”.

This is one of the main conclusions of the House of Lords EU Internal Market Sub-Committee’s report, Clock changes: is it time for change?, recently published.

The report also concluded that aligning with the EU on clock changes could have negative consequences for people and businesses in Northern Ireland, and could have repercussions for UK businesses trading with the EU. However, aligning with the EU and ending clock changes could negatively affect the daily lives of other UK citizens, particularly in Scotland and the north of England. Considerably more evidence, for example on the road safety implications, would be needed for the Government to decide on such a complex matter as the country’s time arrangements.

Commenting on the report, Baroness Donaghy, Chair of the EU Internal Market Sub-Committee, said:

“So far the Government has stuck its head in the sand on the EU Commission’s proposal, hoping that it goes away. However, if it doesn’t, we could be caught unaware and unprepared to make a decision, leaving the island of Ireland with two time zones at different times of the year and causing difficulties for people and businesses in Northern Ireland.

“This is a complex issue with a range of consequences for different industries and people in the United Kingdom. If the UK chose to align itself with the EU, it would need to decide which permanent time zone it should adopt. Before making a final decision, the Government must fully examine the implications of aligning or non-aligning with the EU, look at and where necessary commission relevant research and give the public and other stakeholders an opportunity to have their say.”

Other findings and conclusions of this report include:

  • In the UK, seasonal changes of time facilitate lighter evenings for over half of the year and reduce morning darkness in the winter months. The latter effect is most significant in the five most northern parts of the UK. The Committee received no compelling evidence to suggest that the current system of seasonal changes does not work well for the UK.
  • An EU-wide consultation received 4.6 million responses, 84% of which were in favour of abolishing the clock change practice. However, the EU Commission has little evidence that doing so would make material improvements over the status quo. It should carry out a full impact assessment so that Member States can consider the proposal in the light of all the relevant evidence.
  • Representatives from the aviation industry published a joint position paper on the proposal where they warned that, “without complete synchronization”, the aviation industry would be “left in chaos”, as clock changes were “built-in to airlines business models, seasonal planning, fleet and crew planning and rostering, and schedules”.
  • Non-alignment could lead to an increase in the time differences between the UK and its EU trading partners, reducing the number of common operating hours for businesses. Academic studies, and anecdotal evidence from Turkey and the Australian State of Queensland, suggest that this could pose an obstacle to trade in some sectors. Moreover, any change to the time differences between the UK and EU could alter the economic benefits of gas and electricity interconnectors.
  • Communities along the Ireland-Northern Ireland border share deep economic and social ties. Supply chains are closely integrated. It is normal to work or rely on public services, such as hospital and schools, on the other side of the border. A time border would have enormous practical implications for firms and citizens in Northern Ireland, disrupting well-established ways of doing business and organising daily life.
  • It is not clear whether a future Northern Ireland Executive would, under the current EU proposal and the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland, be free to choose between having a one-hour time difference for part of the year with the Republic of Ireland or with the rest of the UK. Even if Northern Ireland has a free choice, either option could have challenging consequences for people in and trade between Northern Ireland, Ireland and Great Britain.

The report, Clock changes: is it time for change?, will be available on the Committee’s website shortly after publication.

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