As we approach the end of the two-year period for Brexit negotiations, we are no closer to solving the issue of the Irish Border.
Despite the fact that it was hardly mentioned - on either side - during the Referendum campaigns of 2016, it has slowly, but surely, emerged as the primary spanner in the works to obtaining any sort of deal with the EU once we leave in March 2019.
It’s very simple: if the UK does not stay in a customs union with the EU, then there will have to be a hard border, which would undermine the basis of the Good Friday Agreement and almost certainly lead to a return of The Troubles in the region. And if Northern Ireland alone stays in a customs union to avoid this, with a customs border between it and Great Britain, then the DUP will bring down the Conservative government and the likelihood of Northern Ireland leaving the UK to rejoin Ireland would increase.
However, with Brexiters seemingly having not anticipated any of this, it turns out that there’s another problem - and this one literally relates to something perhaps even more fundamental: time itself.
European commission plans to end the changing of clocks twice a year mean that, if Brexit negotiations fail, clocks in Northern Ireland could end up being one hour different from either London or Dublin - a move which would potentially cause huge confusion at the Irish Border.
The decision to end the bringing forward of the clocks in spring and their subsequent going back in autumn came after research suggested that it was unpopular with the public in EU member states (presumably including the UK), and could mean that EU countries will have to choose to adopt a permanent summer or winter time.
Therefore, with Ireland, obviously still in the EU, adopting a ‘flat time’ for the year, when UK clocks change, it would mean that, for six months of the year, Northern Ireland would be an hour ahead or behind Ireland. And, conversely, if Northern Ireland remained in a customs union with the rest of Ireland, it would then be an hour out from London for six months of the year.
Currently, every EU state switches to summertime on the last Sunday of March and then back to winter time on the last Sunday of October, but Brussels is proposing to end this practice.
A report by a Lords committee has warned that if Dublin goes along with this change and “the UK then decided to maintain summertime arrangements, Northern Ireland (assuming the devolved institutions have been re-established) would have to choose between having a one-hour time difference for half the year either with the Republic of Ireland or with the rest of the UK”.
The new time system is not due to come into force until after March next year - and will require the support of all EU countries and the support of MEPs, but with the UK likely to have a transition period - if a deal is agreed - it could also end up having to adopt the new ‘flat time’ as well.
The European commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker, has previously said millions “believe that in future, summer time should be year-round, and that’s what will happen”.
Meanwhile, on that border issue, it’s comforting to know that our decision-making MPs are so well-informed about the subject, as demonstrated by Chris Philp, Conservative MP for Croydon South, who tweeted this, suggesting that an easy technical solution for the border already existed, citing a road supposedly crossing the border between Switzerland and France:
How brilliant! Problem solved.
Oh. Still, it’ll all be fine right?