The Great EU Rip-Off : Eurocrats Stifle our Traditions

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The Great EU Rip-Off : Eurocrats Stifle our Traditions 

Our traditional weights and measures should be freely available to use by consumers and producers. If it were not for resistance to a European Commission directive, Britain would have seen the humble pint being banned by enforced metrication, and landlords designated as ‘rogue traders’ for not conforming to EU rules. There is no doubt this will happen again if we stay inside the EU.


John Gardner, the Director of the British Weights and Measurements Association, has written an exclusive article for Get Britain Out, explaining why metrication is not based on logic, and destroys the traditions of the British people.

The purpose of weights and measures is to communicate dimensions and quantity in terms which people understand. The law defines weights and measures to ensure consistency and protect the public from inaccuracy and fraud; for example, by ensuring a bottle described as ‘one pint’ contains a pint.

Metric and imperial represent different approaches to measuring. Metric is centrally designed and consists of a single scale: 1, 10, 100, 1000, etc. Imperial has developed over centuries, and is based on commonly used ratios and amounts: halves, thirds, quarters, etc.

The dispute about compulsory metrication is not about which system is better, but about denial of choice and pressure to conform. Most importantly however, is the replacement of cultural identity.

British manufacturing went metric voluntarily in the 1960s and 1970s, but it has not been adopted by the retail sector because there has been no demand for metrification from consumers. In Britain, ounces, pounds, miles, feet and inches are more relevant than grams, kilograms, kilometres, metres and centimetres.

UK governments asserted legal compulsion would not be used to enforce metrification, and imperial units would still be available for use in trade. In 1985, the government passed the Weights and Measures Act, protecting the continued use of our imperial system so it could be used alongside the metric system.

However, in 1971 the European Community (EC) had already decided it was to adopt the metric system exclusively. This meant once the UK joined the European Economic Community (the EEC) in 1973, we would be forced to follow suit as soon as it’s the directive came into effect. So clearly, every claim by British governments stating only they decide our policy regarding metrication, is clearly false!

Tony Blair – when he was the Leader of the Opposition in 1995 – stated the Labour Party was “… determined to ensure shopkeepers can continue to use pounds and ounces to sell goods such as loose fruit and vegetables”. Yet in 2000, the Labour government duly implemented regulations which made the sale of loose foods in imperial units a criminal offence. Deadlines set by an EC Directive had to be met. The wishes of the British people had been overruled!

Britain’s metric regulations were passed under the European Communities Act 1972. But according to British constitutional law, according to British constitutional law, the Act passed in 1972 cannot override the 1985 Weights and Measures Act which protected the imperial system.

In 2001, Sunderland greengrocer Steve Thoburn was prosecuted under the 1972 Act. He argued in his defence that the 1985 Act represented the law, meaning lb/oz were lawful. But Lord Justice Laws of the Divisional Court refused to apply the 1985 Act, meaning not only did Thoburn become the first trader to be convicted of a criminal offence for using pounds and ounces, but a British Act of Parliament had been bypassed.

In 2009, another trader was charged with weighing in imperial measurements – Janet Devers of Hackney – who exercised her right to trial by jury. Hackney Council, realising they would be denied a judge who could be expected to uphold the “correct” verdict, abandoned its prosecution of the weighing offence, and instead pursued the technically separate offence of pricing in imperial – for which jury trial is not available. Thus, enforcement was selective to avoid challenge.

By using traditional imperial measurements, the EU bureaucrats will accuse you of “fraudulent practice”, “deliberate deception”, “unfair”and “consumer detriment”. The Food Standards Agency could deem you a “rogue trader”… and so on. These descriptions are grotesque, for the offence referred to is merely the use of imperial measures, not short measures or inaccuracy.

In addition, metric conversion can also increase the cost of living. This is because it results in reductions in quantity which are rarely followed by reductions in price. Packs and cartons containing 1 lb (454g) are reduced to 400g, and pints (568ml) are replaced with 500ml, meaning price rises in real terms of 13%.

More profoundly, the effect of replacing imperial with metric is to remove sizing scales by which consumers can judge value – this, in turn, promotes further downsizing, from 400g to 380g, 350g, etc. Imperial weights used to be part of product descriptions (“1lb frozen peas”), entrenched not in law, but in mind and language. Metric weights however, are represented by abstract three-digit numbers and gain no traction in the mind – so, metric is invariably placed on the reverse of packaging, and in tiny print so hardly anyone can read it.

In 2010, not satisfied with making metric compulsory, the EU sought to ban imperial measures even as optional equivalents alongside metric. Eurocrats told US officials non-metric measurements would be banned not just from exterior packaging, but from instruction manuals and warehouse records too! Both US and EU manufacturers would be – at the very least – required to duplicate production lines: metric-only for the EU, and dual imperial-metric for the USA.

A coalition of US and UK manufacturers was formed to argue the case for why imperial and US units should be allowed alongside metric on a voluntary basis, and the EU backed down. This secured an important tactical victory.

There is absolutely no logical reason why Britain cannot use metric when trading with European counties, while using the imperial system at home. But this issue is not about logic. Metrication in Britain in 2015 plays the same role as it did in Revolutionary France in 1795 – to separate people from the past, and force them to be malleable to political change.

This is why the element of compulsion should be resisted. When it is not necessary to change, it is necessary not to change.

John Gardner is the Director of the British Weights and Measures Association, established in 1995 to defend choice in measurements

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