‘Time border’ could exist between Northern Ireland and Great Britain after Brexit, minister admits

EU member states are consulting on proposals to scrap seasonal clock changes

Ashley Cowburn
Political Correspondent
Thursday 24 October 2019 14:45 BST
A possible time border between Northern Ireland and Great Britain

A “time border” between Northern Ireland and Great Britain could exist after Brexit due to EU proposals to end seasonal clock changes, a government minister has admitted.

EU member states are consulting on plans to scrap mandatory daylight saving times – a move that could result in the end of twice-yearly clock changes across the continent.

The draft directive, backed by the European parliament earlier this year, will provide countries with an option between permanent summer or winter time.

Last year, Jean Claude-Juncker said: “We carried out a survey, millions responded and believe that in future, summer time should be year-round, and that’s what will happen.”

Under Boris Johnson’s Brexit plans, the UK is expected to follow EU rules until the end of the transition period in December 2020, meaning it may have to enforce the directive if enacted promptly.

But if the clock change is brought into force after the transition period, Britain will be able to decide whether or not to keep current daylight saving times. Less certain is how it will affect the Northern Irish border.

Quizzed during a House of Lords sub-committee, Kelly Tolhurst, a minister at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), said the EU’s plans were centred on the “harmonisation of the single market”.

She insisted the UK government was strongly opposed to the measures, and said she hoped the proposals to scrap daylight saving time are “kicked into the long-grass”.

Lord Lansley, a peer on the EU internal market sub-committee, however, raised the prospect of Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland aligning if the EU directive is eventually brought into force.

He said: “If the legal basis is a single market measure, and if the protocol as published pursues alignment between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland on single market measures and this directive is brought into force, the government’s expectation is that there would be alignment between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.

“The government’s expectation under those circumstances would be that if there were a discontinuation of seasonal changes of time in Ireland but not in Great Britain, there would be a time border between Northern Ireland and Great Britain – is that not correct?”

In response, Ms Tolhurst said: “If it was to become EU law, that potentially could be the case.”

Earlier in the session, the minister also said the UK government was “very pleased” the Irish government opposes the measures.

“This is something we don’t want to happen,” Ms Tolhurst added. “We will be working with our Irish counterparts, particularly with the Northern Irish office to make sure that we are presenting a united front in our wishes for this not to happen.”

“We are trying to work to make sure this doesn’t become an EU directive, but quite rightly anything that would affect, or create a time border on Northern Ireland, we would be completely opposed to and so [would] the Irish government.

“When the timetable is clear, and [were] it to become law, that is something we need to consider extremely seriously.”

The European Council has not yet agreed a position on the proposals, but member states are carrying out consultations. The plans must receive a qualified majority of the EU 27.

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