28th Mar 2023

Brussels pressures Britain to go metric

The European Commission has reminded Britain of its legal requirement to set a date for abolishing the imperial system, or the use of pints, miles and acres.

Following lobbying from unnamed groups, Brussels officials over the past few weeks have made a fresh attempt to get the Brits in line with the rest of Europe in using the metric system, UK media report.

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"We are in touch with the UK about how they want to do it", a spokesman for industry commissioner Gunter Verheugen was quoted as saying.

"In legal terms it is clear they have committed themselves to the metric system...now we have to see how to deal with it", he said to the Sunday Times.

Metric Martyrs

The Harold Wilson government decided to go metric as early as 1965 and the UK government also agreed to the principle of metrification in 1972 when it adopted the EC act to join the EU.

But in 1979 Britain was given a derogation, allowing it to delay implementation of some of the changes.

Again, little happened until 2000 when it became illegal to sell products by reference to pound, pint or gallon - with the exception of beer.

In 2001, a market trader named Steven Thoburn lost a widely-reported court battle to continue labelling his bananas in pounds and ounces.

He was nicknamed the Metric Martyr, but died earlier this year of a heart attack, aged just 39.

Brussels’ decision to take up the issue again is likely to spark further controversy among British citizens who are already mostly hostile to the EU.

Few Brits see the point in swapping one pint of ale to 568ml or driving 1.609km instead of 1 mile.

"These damn Eurocrats must be mad if they think they can separate a Brit from his pint", Londoner Sam Patterson told the popular British tabloid, the Sun.

The main pro-metrication group in Britain, the UK Metric Association, told the Financial Times it was not "strongly lobbying" the commission.

"We’d prefer to work on persuasion rather than forcing people to do it", said Roz Denny of the group.

Legal action

Earlier this year, Ireland completed its conversion, leaving Britain together with the US among the few countries still using miles on the roads.

If the UK fails to act, it risks an infringement procedure at the EU Court of Justice in Luxembourg.

However, a spokesman for the Department for Transport told the Sunday Times that "The derogation says we will go to metric when we choose a date. We are within our rights, and we have no intention of getting rid of the mile".

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