“Spring forward, fall back” is a pithy reminder about how seasonal changes of time operate, but the basis for retaining those clock changes or abolishing them, as the European Commission proposes, is not so clear.
Public movements in favour of abolishing clock changes are evident in several EU Member States, often citing clock changes’ negative consequences for public health and road traffic accident rates. However, research in this area is surprisingly sparse and inconclusive. Moreover, the abolition of clock changes and adoption of a permanent time zone—either permanent winter-time or summer-time—would have significant consequences for a number of industries, such as aviation and agriculture, as well as the daily lives of citizens, including, in the UK, those living in Scotland and northern England.
The case for and against abolishing clock changes is especially complex for those living in Northern Ireland. The depth of economic and social integration in the border region of Ireland/Northern Ireland is extensive, whereas the majority of Northern Ireland trade (by value) is with Great Britain. While the EU’s proposal is not progressing quickly, a decision at EU level to abolish clock changes will force Northern Ireland to introduce a time border for part of the year, either with Ireland (by retaining clock changes along with the rest of the UK), or with Great Britain (by following the EU in abolishing the changes). The Government opposed the Commission’s proposal to abolish clock changes following its introduction in September 2018 and has clearly indicated that it has no plans to implement such a policy. It has not, however, assessed the implications for the UK of not aligning with this proposal. Nor has it consulted the public or stakeholders—unlike, for example, the Irish government.
Given the importance of the potential impacts on Northern Ireland and on industries across the UK, we urge the Government to do more now to ensure they have the full picture about the consequences of both keeping and abolishing our own clock changes so that the UK can act on evidence-based research when the EU makes its decision about how to manage clock changes in the future.