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In September 2018, the European Commission published a draft directive which would oblige member states to end seasonal time changes in 2019 and decide whether to remain on winter time or summertime permanently. Both the House of Commons European Scrutiny Committee and the House of Lords European Union Committee expressed concerns about the proposal on the basis that it breached the principle of subsidiarity, and the UK Government committed to oppose the directive. In March 2019, the European Parliament Committee on Transport and Tourism approved the directive, subject to amendment, including delaying its effect until 2021. The directive must now be approved by the European Parliament as a whole, after which negotiations between MEPs and the Council of Ministers will begin. If the UK leaves the EU on the terms negotiated in the Government’s withdrawal agreement, EU law will cease to apply by December 2020, and therefore the UK will not be bound by the directive, unless the transition period—during which EU law would continue to apply to the UK—is extended. As the Republic of Ireland will be obliged to end seasonal time changes, the Northern Ireland Executive—to whom power over time zones is devolved—may have to decide whether to align with the rest of the UK or Ireland.

The issues of time zones and time changes have been the subject of significant parliamentary debate since seasonal time changes were first introduced during World War One. Since the 1990s, several private member’s bills have been introduced with the aim of advancing the clocks by an hour throughout the year. Proponents cite potential benefits such as a reduction in road collisions, reduced energy consumption and a boost to the tourism industry, although evidence on these issues is inconclusive. Changes to time zones or seasonal time changes also have specific implications for Scotland, the UK’s most northerly territory. The matter is currently reserved for the UK Government for Scotland and Wales, but the Scottish Government has expressed opposition to any change.

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