Northern Ireland could be forced to operate in a different time zone from the rest of the UK for half of the year under Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal, the UK Parliament’s EU Internal Market Sub-Committee has warned in a recent report.
Currently, the UK and the remaining 27 EU states advance their clocks by one hour on the last Sunday in March and then set them back on the last Sunday in October. However, the European Parliament last year proposed to stop changing the clocks twice a year, possibly moving to “double summer time”, while Britain is set to continue the practice following its divorce with the EU.
However, under Boris Johnson’s Withdrawal Agreement, Northern Ireland is set to follow EU rules on goods and agriculture to avoid a hard border with the Republic of Ireland. This could potentially mean a one-hour difference with the rest of the UK for half of the year, when London switches back to Greenwich Mean Time in autumn, while Northern Ireland goes on with summer time.
“Were this proposal (for double summer time) to become EU law under its current single market legal basis, Northern Ireland may be obliged under the terms of the Withdrawal Agreement and the protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland to align with the EU and thus institute a time border with Great Britain”, the sub-committee’s report said.
On the other hand, if Northern Ireland continues to change time twice a year like the rest of the UK, unlike the Republic of Ireland which is a member of the European Union, this could also create a time border for half of the year, but in that case on the island of Ireland, Chair of the EU Internal Market Sub-Committee Baroness Rita Donaghy said.
“If the UK chose to align itself with the EU, it would need to decide which permanent time zone it should adopt”, Donaghy stated. “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”, she insisted.
It is not clear so far whether the Northern Ireland Executive would choose to have a one hour difference for six months with the rest of the UK or with the Republic of Ireland if given the option, the report concluded. In the meantime, the UK government is set to continue reviewing all the possible options to help avoid time borders and prevent any harm to the wellbeing of British citizens.