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‘Metric martyr’: Boris Johnson’s plan to revive imperial measurements

Bid to bring back pounds and ounces is part of a bonfire of EU regulations

British shops will once again be allowed to sell products in pounds and ounces after the government announced a review of the ban on using imperial units.

Traders are legally obliged to use metric measurements, such as grams, kilograms, millilitres and litres, when selling packaged or loose goods in England, Scotland and Wales.

However, in a policy paper released yesterday entitled “Brexit opportunities”, the Cabinet Office said that it plans to “review the EU ban on markings and sales in imperial units and legislate in due course”.

David Frost, minister of state at the Cabinet Office, said: “Overbearing regulations were often conceived and agreed in Brussels with little consideration of the UK national interest. We now have the opportunity to do things differently.”

Regulations introduced in 1994 requiring goods to be weighed in metric units have “long been a flashpoint for anti-EU campaigners”, said i news. And during the 2019 general election campaign, Boris Johnson pledged that he would bring imperial units back to shops, heralding “an era of generosity and tolerance towards traditional measurements”.

The issue was also raised in 2001 when a “greengrocer from Sunderland arguably did more than any politician to set Britain on the path towards Brexit” after he was convicted for breaking “EU rules banning the sale of fruit and vegetables in pounds and ounces”, The Times said.

The government review marks a victory for “metric martyrs”, the paper added, but is “a largely symbolic move to make good on one of the most ardent and longstanding public gripes about EU interference on traditional English life”.

The announcement has been met with “disdain” on social media, said The London Economic, and Labour MP Jess Phillips tweeted: “Literally no one has ever raised this with me as an MP. EVER!” 

SNP MP Stephen Flynn tweeted: “They could do with just focusing on having food on the shelves in the first place.”

In a leader article, The Times said that the plan “should not go the distance”, arguing that while “small sections of Conservative support may yearn for the olden clarity of lbs and oz… if forced to jettison our measurement bilingualism, an unspoken majority might prefer things to go the other way”.

Imperial vs. metric

Most of the world uses the metric system. However, the US has its own system, which is based on the old imperial system of inches and pounds.

  • Under the imperial system, used in the UK until metric measurements began to be introduced in 1965, length is measured in inches, feet and miles. One inch is the equivalent of 2.54 centimetres, one foot is 30.48 centimetres and a mile represents 1.609 kilometres.
  • Volume is measured in fluid ounces, pints and gallons. One fluid ounce is equal to 28.4 millilitres, a pint is 0.568 litres and a gallon is 4.546 litres. 
  • Weight, like length, is still commonly measured in the UK using the imperial system. One ounce (1oz)  is 28.349 grams, one pound (1lb) is 0.453 kilograms and one stone is 6.35 kilograms.

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