Now Eurocrats want to keep us in the dark!
By Graham Grant
IT should come as little surprise that well-refreshed EU panjandrum Jean-Claude Juncker is spearheading the move to abolish Daylight Saving Time (DST).
After all, it does sound like the kind of wheeze that might be dreamed up in the closing stages of a fat-cat banquet to justify a robust expenses claim.
The European Commission (EC) president said a recent consultation had shown more than 80 per cent of EU citizens were in favour of scrapping the supposedly archaic practice of putting clocks forward in the spring and back in the autumn.
‘We carried out a survey’, he told a German broadcaster, ‘millions responded and [they] believe that in future, summer time should be year-round, and that’s what will happen.’
As a result, Mr Juncker says the EC is urging member states to abandon the practice of changing the clocks – because ‘if you ask the citizens, then you have to do what the citizens say’ (funny that he doesn’t seem to feel the same way about Brexit).
Under current EU legislation, citizens in all 28 EU countries have been required to move their clocks an hour forward on the last Sunday in March, and switch back to winter time on the final Sunday in October.
The furore over Mr Juncker’s proposals has proved sufficient to rouse members of the Lords to a state of some agitation, and they plan to debate the planned reforms tomorrow (Wednesday, October 24).
Peers warn that should the UK and EU reach a Brexit deal according to the terms of the draft Withdrawal Agreement, the UK ‘would be required to implement the time-change proposal during the transition period’ (however long that might be).
Lord Whitty, chairman of the House of Lords EU internal market sub-committee, believes that the EC’s proposal to end seasonal time changes ‘goes beyond its remit and is not in compliance with the principle of subsidiarity’.
Diplomatically, the committee says it ‘recognises that harmonisation of member states’ summertime arrangements is beneficial to the proper functioning of the EU internal market.
But it does not think that the EC has ‘adequately explained why or justified that the EU should make the decision for all member states to stop daylight saving arrangements’.
It’s hard to imagine a better illustration of the meddling of Eurocrats than an attempt to tinker with time itself – but it is something of a hand-grenade to lob into the already fraught Brexit talks, as few issues are quite so divisive.
DST was introduced in 1916 in the UK and was the brainchild of builder William Willett, the great-great-grandfather of Coldplay singer Chris Martin.
Mr Willett believed it would stop people wasting valuable hours of light in the summer months and published a pamphlet, The Waste of Daylight, in which he suggested clocks should be advanced by 80 minutes over four stages in April, and reversed in the same way in September.
Changing the clocks won parliamentary backing but only after Mr Willett’s death from flu in 1915.
All of which shows that time is a pretty flexible concept – during the Second World War, Britain adopted British Double Summer Time, which saw clocks put forward two hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) to give people more time to get home for the blackout.
Under a trial known as the British Standard Time experiment, the UK kept DST hours permanently from February 1968 to November 1971, but the move was abandoned in 1972 because of its unpopularity – particularly in Scotland, where of course days are generally shorter.
While some experts claimed it prevented deaths and serious injuries – up to 2,500 each year – other reports suggested a rise in casualties north of the Border, mainly during the morning rush-hour.
In 2011, Tory MP Rebecca Harris unsuccessfully sought to hold a trial where DST would be dropped in favour of moves backed by road safety campaigners to increase evening sunlight all year round – with clocks moving forward one hour ahead of GMT in winter, and two hours ahead in the summer.
The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) claims that scrapping DST could be beneficial for children who are ‘particularly vulnerable’ coming home from school in the afternoons, when they may take a more circuitous route and are therefore exposed to traffic risk for longer than the morning trip.
(Mind you, that only applies to those who walk to and from school rather than being ferried to the front door by their parents).
RoSPA’s position is a little counter-intuitive anyway, as it seems to discount the risk of those hardy children who do walk to school having to do so in the dark.
One of the most vociferous opponents of the move to scrap DST is former First Minister Alex Salmond, who has heavily criticised plans for its abolition, warning that it would ‘plunge Scotland into morning darkness’.
For all their highly tactical Europhilia, the Nationalists appear to draw the line at extending the reach of European bureaucrats into the realm of Scottish time-keeping.
The Scottish Government maintains there is no ‘substantive economic or social case for any change to existing arrangements, or for different time zones within the UK’.
If there was special dispensation for a specifically Caledonian Time Zone, we’d presumably turn the clocks back all the way to, say, 1314, to re-live the victory at Bannockburn – or perhaps 2014 to have another crack at the referendum.
In reality, a debt-laden independent Scotland would be committed under the SNP to EU membership, if it could be wangled, which would ultimately lead to the adoption of the Euro, along with all the other barmy edicts emanating from Mr Juncker and his cronies – we simply wouldn’t have the clout to reject them.
It is true that under the Juncker plans, it would remain each member state’s decision ‘whether to go for permanent summer or wintertime (or a different time)’ – how generous of them to offer such latitude.
But in Scotland the prospect of darkness until 10 am in the winter months is a depressing one, not just for schoolchildren but for commuters rushing to the train station to find out when their replacement bus is due to leave.
They’d rather do so with a modicum of natural light, but getting rid of DST also has major implications for agriculture – anxieties that might seem rather remote from Mr Juncker’s Brussels base.
You might also wonder why the EC president isn’t devoting more time to more pressing issues, such as, well, Brexit.
We should remind politicians – even those citing rather bogus-sounding consultations to claim they enjoy public backing – that there are definite boundaries to their powers, and that time should be safe from their clutches.
But it is in the DNA of the great unreconstructed behemoth of the European super-state to harmonise, homogenise and harry its members into subservience to the all-powerful centre, taking little note of localised concerns.
More than anything else, this debate should underline the wisdom of the UK’s collective decision to sever ties with the EU – escaping its interfering injunctions and lunatic strictures once and for all.