Brexit: Government to launch study on economic benefits of reintroducing imperial units

Exclusive: Business minister mocked for ‘ludicrous’ attempt to quantify ‘Brexit benefit’

Jon Stone
Policy Correspondent
Wednesday 09 March 2022 10:25
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Jacob Rees-Mogg’s ‘cheaper food and clothing’ Brexit promise has aged terribly

The government is to launch a study of the economic benefits of reintroducing imperial units of measurement, to quantify a supposed advantage of Brexit.

Ministers provoked mockery from opposition politicians with the “ludicrous” move, which will be overseen by the business department this year.

In 2019, Boris Johnson pledged to usher in a new “era of generosity and tolerance towards traditional measurements” and suggested that measuring in pounds and ounces was “ancient liberty”.

This month he appointed Jacob Rees-Mogg as “minister for Brexit opportunities” in order to examine how Britain can benefit from leaving the EU.

Imperial-only labelling fell out of business use when Britain joined the European common market in the early 1970s, but some people who remember the esoteric counting system remain attached to it.

Imperial’s alternative system of measuring weights and volume of products was used more or less exclusively in Britain – though the US maintains a parallel system with similar names but different measurements.

As opposed to the metric system of weight, in which 1,000 grams are equivalent to one kilogram, the imperial system says there are 14 pounds in a stone and 16 ounces in a pound.

For liquid, there are 20 fluid ounces in a pint and 160 fluid ounces in a gallon, instead of metric’s 1,000 millilitres in a litre.

While the measurements have largely been out of use for some 60 years, they are believed by politicians to be beloved of some older voters, and so occasionally become a political issue. In reality, Britain operates a mixed system, with businesses using metric weights and measures, while imperial miles are used on roadsigns and pints used in pubs.

Paul Scully, a Tory business minister, said reintroducing imperial labelling would be “an important step in taking back control” and that a planned “assessment of the economic impact on business will be carried out in due course”.

But the Liberal Democrat business spokesperson Sarah Olney accused the government of “wasting taxpayer money” and said there were more important things to worry about.

“The fact the government is undertaking a study into this shows just how out of touch they are,” she told The Independent.

“It’s ludicrous that they think this will help businesses after they hit them with a national insurance rise and have done nothing to help with their soaring energy bills.

“Ministers must explain how reverting to a system not used in nearly 60 years will help businesses attract new customers, and how imperial units will be of any help to companies looking to trade with the rest of the world – when the vast majority of countries use the metric system.

“Instead of wasting taxpayer money on looking to bring back imperial measurements, the government should be focusing on the real issues affecting businesses, like the miles of queues at our ports and the reams of red tape thrown up by Boris Johnson’s shambolic EU trade deal.”

Mr Scully said: “We are reviewing the EU ban on the use of imperial units for markings so that businesses have more choice over the measures they use.

“This is an important step in taking back control of our national rules, and we will consult to ensure that we have the best evidence available on which to make changes.

“An assessment of the economic impact on businesses will be carried out in due course.”

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