Countdown to Brexit: 88 days – Happy New Year and farewell to “British” Summer time

The 27 remaining EU Member States must choose in 2019 between either living on ‘permanent summer’ or ‘permanent winter’ time.  Britain - under the terms of the Withdrawal ‘deal’ - is required to follow the directive.

European Commission President, Jean-Claude Juncker, declared in a recent State of the Union speech that "clock-changing must stop”.  Member States can each decide whether their citizens live in summer or winter time – and thereafter clocks will remain on that time all year round.  The EC has subsequently proposed a Directive to this end. 

Parliament in the UK has been reasoning against this change:

  • Questioning whether there is a sufficient evidence base to change current arrangements - in which seasonal clock changes are harmonised across the EU to avoid disruption to cross-border trade and communications;

  • Suggesting that the public consultation carried out by the European Commission was not genuinely representative of opinion across all Member States - and did not explore all possible options; and

  • Questioning the “internal market justification” given by the EU in removing the possibility for Member States - now or in the future - to apply seasonal time changes.   

“Given the possibility that the Directive may take effect during a post-Brexit transition period in which EU law would continue to apply to the UK, the Committee urged the House to make its voice heard while it still has the opportunity to do so.”

It is a historical quirk - but there may be some satisfaction for the UK that a fixed time zone for Great Britain would mean either permanently being on “BRITISH Summer Time” – or “GREENWICH Mean Time”.  This did not figure in the ‘Reasoned Opinion’.

We assume that under a ‘no-deal’ Brexit, there would be no requirement for the UK to change from seasonal clock settings.  This would, however, only add to the issues for travellers across the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland for at least 6 months of every year.

The status quo requires all EU Member States to change their clocks on the same day in spring and in autumn.


Summertime arrangements were first adopted by Germany and France during the first World War to conserve coal.   Britain followed suit - to save lighting costs in factories.  Most European countries abandoned the measure after the second World War.  

Modern summertime arrangements were started by Italy in 1966 and Greece in 1971.  The UK and Ireland abolished summertime arrangements in 1968 to harmonise with the rest of Europe but then switched them back on again in 1972.  Citing energy savings as the objective, Spain implemented summertime in 1974 - followed by France in 1976.  Between 1976 and 1981, ten more EU Member States introduced summertime arrangements - mostly to harmonise to neighbouring countries.

EU Arguments

  • The European Commission has “analysed available evidence - which points to the importance of having harmonised Union rules in this area to ensure a proper functioning of the internal market”.

  • This is supported by the European Parliament and commerce e.g. in the transport sector.  

  • A public consultation generated 4.6 million replies - of which 84% were in favour of discontinuing the bi-annual clock changes.

UK Parliament’s view

Our reasoning is “not concerned with the merits of seasonal time changes – rather the EU action which would not only end seasonal clock changes throughout the EU - but prevent individual Member States from deciding, in the future, to reintroduce them”:

  • “We do not consider that there is a sufficient evidence base to justify the discontinuation of seasonal changes of time in terms of the internal market objective of the proposal”.

  • There is no substantiated “quantitative indicators to demonstrate why the objective of the proposal can better be achieved by action” at EU-wide level”.

  • There is an “over-reliance on a flawed public consultation.  As the Commission itself acknowledges, ‘evidence is not conclusive as to whether the benefits of summer time arrangements outweigh the inconveniences linked to a biannual change of time’”.


John ShuttleworthComment