diamond geezer

 Sunday, March 31, 2019

It's the day the clocks go forward. It's the last Sunday in March, so this is normal.

What's not normal is that the clocks may only go forward two more times.

In all the Brexit turmoil last week one bit of European news got somewhat drowned out, which is that the EU intends to cancel Summer Time.

For almost 100 years the UK has put its clocks forward an hour in spring and back an hour in autumn to maximise the use of available daylight. There are lots of plusses to an extra hour of daylight in the evening for seven months a year, including less need for indoor lighting and increased recreational opportunity. But there are also minuses, chief amongst these being a behavioural disconnect twice a year, shortening or extending time available for sleep and upsetting circadian rhythms.

The EU has mulled over the issues, reviewing scientific research and consulting millions of citizens.
"Numerous studies looked into the link between the switch to summer time and the risk of heart attacks, disrupted body rhythm, sleep deprivation, lack of concentration and attention, increased risk of accidents, lower life satisfaction and even suicide rates. However, longer daylight, outdoor activities after work or school and exposure to sunlight clearly have some positive long-term effects on general well-being."
And their collective opinion is that the benefits of summer time are minor when compared to the downsides, so summer time is being scrapped.

Initially their plan was that the final change would be in 2019, but it was pointed out that IT systems, timetables and the like need time for preparation and so 2021 has been picked instead. In March 2020 and March 2021 time will advance as normal. In autumn 2021 clocks may go back an hour, if that's what countries want. But after 2021 clocks will never change again.

 springautumn
2019forwardback
2020forwardback
2021forwardmaybe back
2022  
2023  
2024  
etc  

This leaves one key decision to be made by each individual member state - when the music stops, which time zone do they want to end up in?

For example, Germany currently spends 5 months a year in GMT+1, which is its base state, and seven months a year in GMT+2. They could decide to stick with GMT+2 (permanent summer time), in which case the clocks would go forward in March 2021 and never change again. Or they could decide to stick with GMT+1 (permanent winter time), in which case the clocks would go forward in March 2021, back in October 2021 and never change again. It's quite the choice.

You'd expect most mainland European countries to stick together and pick the same zone, to avoid awkward clock changes every time someone crosses a border. That's pretty much what happens now, with GMT+1 the default from Spain across to Poland. But every country gets to make its own separate decision, and has to submit it to the EU by this time next year, so anything could happen.

For example, Spain lies within 7½° of the Greenwich Meridian so should by rights be using GMT/GMT+1 like the UK and Portugal, but instead uses GMT+1/GMT+2 like France and Germany. Which way will they jump? Might Portugal follow?



But for us in Britain, Brexit makes the decision doubly intriguing.

In normal circumstances we'd be about to be forced to pick either permanent winter time (GMT) or permanent summer time (GMT+1) and stick to it. But these are not normal times, and if we leave the EU we get to ignore the directive and go our own way.

If we leave the EU this year, we can carry on switching between GMT and BST forever. I can imagine a populist Prime Minister being extremely keen to maintain the tradition of British Summer Time, a quick and simple means of differentiating ourselves from Europe and 'taking back control'. Business might not like the lack of harmonisation, but for most day-to-day purposes an independent Britain could choose to do whatever the hell it liked.

Alternatively if a long Brexit delay kicks in and we're still in the EU in 2021, summer time will no longer be an option. We'll be forced to pick either GMT or GMT+1 and stick to it, and will only be able to reverse that decision if withdrawal ever takes place. I can hear MPs arguing even now, "pass Meaningful Vote 31 and get your lighter evenings back."

Thanks to Brexit the abolition of summer time is not the pressing question it would otherwise have been. But which would have been the better time zone for Britain to end up in, GMT or GMT+1?

Here's what GMT (permanent winter time) would look like throughout the year. Data is for Leeds, because that's roughly in the centre of the country, and times are approximate (for the middle of the month).

Approximate sunrise and sunset times for Leeds (GMT)
 JanFebMarAprMayJunJulAugSepOctNovDec
sunrise08:1507:3006:1505:0004:0003:3004:0004:4505:4506:3007:3008:15
sunset16:1517:1518:1519:0020:0020:4520:3019:3018:1517:1516:0015:45

November to March would be identical to what we have now, daylightwise, and you know what a UK winter feels like. But April to October would be one hour behind, because summer time wouldn't take place, and that bit of the table is shaded. Sunset would never again be after 9pm, indeed in the London area the latest it would ever get would be twenty past eight. That'd be an unwelcome shock, given that London currently enjoys four months with sunset after 8pm, and that'd be cut to just two.

All that daylight has to go somewhere, and that somewhere is the early hours of the morning. Under permanent GMT the sun would rise well before the majority of the population woke up for most of the year - in midsummer as early as half past three. All this wasted daylight is precisely the reason summer time was introduced in the first place, and we'd be throwing all that away in favour of shorter evenings. So maybe not GMT. How about GMT+1?

Approximate sunrise and sunset times for Leeds (GMT+1)
 JanFebMarAprMayJunJulAugSepOctNovDec
sunrise09:1508:3007:1506:0005:0004:3005:0005:4506:4507:3008:3009:15
sunset17:1518:1519:1520:0021:0021:4521:3020:3019:1518:1517:0016:45

Here the summer is what you're used to, and the (shaded) winter months are the different bit. Evenings look good, with the earliest sunset now close to 5pm rather than the miserable 4pm we get at present. That'd likely mean fewer accidents heading home from work or school.

But there has to be payback somewhere, and that payback is in the morning. In the depths of winter the sun wouldn't rise before 9am, which would mean going to work or school in the dark and probably more accidents too. In the north of Scotland the sun wouldn't rise before 10am, which is why Scotland rarely thinks the same way as London when it comes to changing the clocks, and permanent GMT+1 would only make things worse.

Essentially there are good practical reasons why Britain follows GMT in the winter and GMT+1 in the summer. But the EU has judged that the negative effects around changeover outweigh the benefits in the months inbetween, and so wellbeing has trumped daylight saving. In the EU at least.

An unintended consequence of this decision, post-Brexit, would be a temporal disconnect along the UK's land border. Assuming we leave before the regulations come in and choose to retain British Summer Time, the island of Ireland would find itself in two different time zones at certain times of the year. That'd be awkward.

If the Republic of Ireland decides to plump for permanent winter time, i.e. GMT, then Belfast will be an hour ahead of Dublin for seven months a year (from April to October). If instead the Republic of Ireland decides to plump for permanent summer time, i.e. GMT+1, then Belfast will be an hour behind Dublin for five months a year (from November to March). It has to choose one of these options, and neither would be ideal. Mainland Britain won't care, but as is so often the case with Brexit the full impact will be felt across the Irish Sea.

Cancelling summer time is the most important decision future Britain doesn't have to sign up to, shifting everything the entire population does by an hour and changing the future in as yet impenetrable ways. Just for a change, Brexit looks likely to save the UK from a choice affecting all of us forever.


<< click for Newer posts

click for Older Posts >>


click to return to the main page


...or read more in my monthly archives
Jan19  Feb19  Mar19  Apr19  May19  Jun19
Jan18  Feb18  Mar18  Apr18  May18  Jun18  Jul18  Aug18  Sep18  Oct18  Nov18  Dec18
Jan17  Feb17  Mar17  Apr17  May17  Jun17  Jul17  Aug17  Sep17  Oct17  Nov17  Dec17
Jan16  Feb16  Mar16  Apr16  May16  Jun16  Jul16  Aug16  Sep16  Oct16  Nov16  Dec16
Jan15  Feb15  Mar15  Apr15  May15  Jun15  Jul15  Aug15  Sep15  Oct15  Nov15  Dec15
Jan14  Feb14  Mar14  Apr14  May14  Jun14  Jul14  Aug14  Sep14  Oct14  Nov14  Dec14
Jan13  Feb13  Mar13  Apr13  May13  Jun13  Jul13  Aug13  Sep13  Oct13  Nov13  Dec13
Jan12  Feb12  Mar12  Apr12  May12  Jun12  Jul12  Aug12  Sep12  Oct12  Nov12  Dec12
Jan11  Feb11  Mar11  Apr11  May11  Jun11  Jul11  Aug11  Sep11  Oct11  Nov11  Dec11
Jan10  Feb10  Mar10  Apr10  May10  Jun10  Jul10  Aug10  Sep10  Oct10  Nov10  Dec10 
Jan09  Feb09  Mar09  Apr09  May09  Jun09  Jul09  Aug09  Sep09  Oct09  Nov09  Dec09
Jan08  Feb08  Mar08  Apr08  May08  Jun08  Jul08  Aug08  Sep08  Oct08  Nov08  Dec08
Jan07  Feb07  Mar07  Apr07  May07  Jun07  Jul07  Aug07  Sep07  Oct07  Nov07  Dec07
Jan06  Feb06  Mar06  Apr06  May06  Jun06  Jul06  Aug06  Sep06  Oct06  Nov06  Dec06
Jan05  Feb05  Mar05  Apr05  May05  Jun05  Jul05  Aug05  Sep05  Oct05  Nov05  Dec05
Jan04  Feb04  Mar04  Apr04  May04  Jun04  Jul04  Aug04  Sep04  Oct04  Nov04  Dec04
Jan03  Feb03  Mar03  Apr03  May03  Jun03  Jul03  Aug03  Sep03  Oct03  Nov03  Dec03
 Jan02  Feb02  Mar02  Apr02  May02  Jun02  Jul02 Aug02  Sep02  Oct02  Nov02  Dec02 

eXTReMe Tracker
jack of diamonds
Life viewed from London E3

» email me
» follow me on twitter
» follow the blog on Twitter
» follow the blog on RSS

my flickr photostream