The Government is still hankering after peculiar British measurements, and suggesting we should reject EU metric rules. Jacob Rees-Mogg wrote in a twitter,
“If you go through the Dartford Tunnel…we’ve got very funny numbers, and this is all because of an EU regulation.”
Imperial or metric?
The numbers are the distance from the tunnel portal, in case of fire, which are written in yards. They occur every 25m along the tunnel. He gives this as an example of regulations that need to be abolished under the benefit of Brexit. Is he against the safety regulation about exit from tunnels, or the metres? He seems to want to retain British sovereign rights to yards, and reject metres as being under the EU.
The government is now moving on this, as a consultation has been issued by the Department of Business, with a closing time of 11:00pm 26 August.
Tendentious from the start
The consultation paper pompously states in the first sentence, “The UK has a long and proud history of using imperial measures and their use is closely associated with our culture and language” and gives examples of measuring miles per gallon for vehicles, babies in ounces, and buying milk or beer in pints.
The second paragraph begins, “Now we have left the EU, the UK can take back control of its measurement system and take decisions in the best interests of British businesses and consumers.”
Loud echoes of Brexit
The language of “take back control” echoes the Leave campaign. The Government announced the decision in September 2021 to review the ban on imperial measurements and set up a task force. This body has just recommended that domestic traders be allowed to label in imperial only, without the EU requirement to also list the metric equivalent.
The Department of Business has issued a questionnaire for people to submit their views:
“This consultation will explore the appetite of businesses and consumers to buy and sell in imperial units. In recognition that there will be people in the UK who have no experience of imperial measurements, the consultation also explores whether there should be a requirement for the equivalent metric measurement to appear alongside the imperial measurement where imperial units are used.”
The questionnaire is infuriating to fill in as the questions are loaded towards imperial and there is no option to state one’s preference for metric only.
Allowing two measurement standards to be used concurrently causes costly confusion. David Reid has just given us a local example of the old ‘rumour,’
“that the reason for the long delay on completing Dungeness ‘B’ was due to scaling up from Architects’ imperial inches measured blueprints to Construction engineers’ metric dimensions – using 2.54cms to the inch…the steel cauldron thing didn’t fit in the concrete container ‘hole’.”
Another such rumour of measurement confusion – even more costly – was that the mirror of the Hubble telescope, launched in 1990, was distorted due to the mismatch of imperial and metric blueprints. This had to be corrected by intense research for a remedy, and then the making of special cameras with corrective lenses, and then an extra space expedition to install these on the orbiting telescope.
Any previous experience?
One of the questions in the questionnaire asks if the respondent had experienced the use of imperial only. Any readers who went to school in the UK before 1974 (when the curriculum changed to use metric only) will recall those infuriating arithmetic questions:
If a cake recipe needs six ounces of sugar, how many pounds of sugar will you need to buy to make three cakes and how much sugar will you have left over?
We spent hours learning how to calculate in twelves (for dozens and needed also for shillings) in eights (for pints to gallons) in 14s (pounds to stones) in 16s (for ounces to pounds) in threes (for feet to yards). Metric, with a base of 10, is so much simpler. Why on earth would anyone, except blinded by Brexiteer patriotism, want to return to their 14 times table?
The report says that the labelling of imperial only is for domestic trade. But this presumably creates extra costs for any manufacturer selling both into the domestic and the EU market. It is not only a matter of different labels but also of different size containers and of different measuring equipment in the factory. Then the trading inspectors too have to be dual equipped. Hasn’t the government got better things to spend money on than following through on Rees-Moggs’ patriotic whims?
If you feel strongly, there is a petition you can sign.
Also read the article by Peter Burke who is the Chair of the UK Metric Association.
The UKMA’s Secretary, Ronnie Cohen, has recently posted a related article on the Association’s Metric Views website.