Brussels drops fight to axe pints and miles

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Britain's pints and miles were reprieved by the European Commission today - to protect the nation's "traditions, culture and lifestyle".

Europe's Industry Commissioner Gunter Verheugen said it was time to end a "pointless battle" after decades of wrangling between London and Brussels over pressure to switch to the metric system.

Imperial weights and measures now face no further threat from Brussels: "It is entirely up to the British Government whether to keep pints and feet and inches, and the whole miles system, but as far as the Commission is concerned there is not now and never will be any requirement to drop imperial measurements," said the Commissioner.

He also confirmed that, as far as the Commission is concerned, market traders and small local shopkeepers do not even have to display metric units on their premises - and never have done.

Referring to the "metric martyrs" prosecuted in the UK for trading only in pounds and ounces and refusing to display metric equivalents, Mr Verheugen commented: "That is very much a local issue which has nothing to do with the European Union. As far as we are concerned people trading in loose goods, in markets and in small local shops are not obliged even to show metric units. The whole metric martyrs issue was a matter for the UK alone."

The UK's commitment to metric units pre-dates British EU membership but, having signed up, the Government was under pressure to announce a date for phasing out imperial measures altogether.

The deadline expired in 2009, but Mr Verheugen said he had never seen any reason to justify dropping imperial measurements.

"This is a pointless battle I could not see that this issue affects the European single market, or cross border trade, but it does affect the British tradition, culture and lifestyle which I, for one, highly value."

He went on: "When I looked into this matter it was obvious to me that there was no reason why imperial measures should go. And then we held a very wide ranging consultation which confirmed how unpopular this move was. I have not been in direct touch with the British Government on this matter I just propose that we put an end to this issue, and I think up to that point nobody had really asked the obvious question which is 'do we really need it?' (outlawing imperial measures)

He said the decision had been adopted unanimously by the EU commissioners - but he acknowledged that there was one eye on the bigger political picture in Britain: "Of course I am very aware of the political considerations, and of the fact that this kind of issue can be used by Euro sceptics against us.

"In that sense the issue of weights and measures is of great political meaning and importance. Whether a decision such as that we are taking today can turn around the Euro sceptic argument in Britain I doubt. But this does demonstrate that Europe values tradition and does not want to harmonise everything - we are not acting as the great equaliser.

"I am the strongest supporter of European diversity - the characteristic that means Europe has hundreds of different kinds of cheeses when a harmoniser would say you only need about four."

The Commissioner added: "Things such as pints and miles and feet and inches are what makes us love Britain. We don't want to get rid of them. The idea that you could not go for a pint in a pub in Britain is not acceptable."

Another consideration for Brussels was trade between the EU and the US where imperial measures still dominate.

"That was obviously a consideration but fundamentally it was my strong belief that there was absolutely no point at all in trying to get rid of the particular heritage of one member state," said Mr Verheugen.

Comments