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30 May 2022

Imperial measures are a painful parody of the Brexit I supported

Leaving the EU was supposed to enable innovation, not tedious headline-grabbing.

By William Atkinson

The government’s plan to reintroduce imperial measures is a clear attempt to win a few cheers from the readers of the Daily Telegraph. This is no crime – governments must please their bases, after all. If you are the sort of stout-hearted Brexiteer whose heart still aches for “Metric Martyrs”, this triumph over Brussels’ pernicious efforts at standardisation is a welcome benefit of our exit from the European Union. For those of us of a more cynical bent, however, this is a tedious attempt to piggyback on the Jubilee by a government enduring a sticky patch.

I say all this despite being a true blue Tory and Telegraph devotee, who would have chosen to Leave had I been old enough to vote in 2016. It thus pains my heart to admit it, but this is an example of the government trying to distract people from its own troubled performance. As inflation roars past 10 per cent, families face surging energy and food bills, and Putin’s war machine grinds into Ukraine, this policy shows a worrying lack of good priorities in No 10.

I am not opposed to the use of imperial measures. Pounds and ounces sound far more satisfying than kilograms and grams. I will forever prefer miles to kilometres, and I have never been averse to pints. Brussels’ efforts to harmonise measurements across the continent is exactly the sort of pettifogging micromanagement that I loathe.

But crucially, contrary to the apparent beliefs in certain Brexiteer quarters, it is not the case that using imperial measurements has been illegal since the EU push for harmonisation two decades ago. So long as the greengrocers of Britain choose to display their wares’ weight in kilograms and grams as well as pounds and ounces, they have always been free to do so.

It is ultimately a great disservice to the public that battier elements of the Eurosceptic movement have been allowed to elevate the imperial push into a cause célèbre. Many of us hoped that leaving the EU would enable policy innovation; this sort of tedious headline-grabbing is a painful parody of what Brexit should be. Like the blue passports of a few years ago, it feeds the delusion among the pro-EU world that the 2016 referendum was some huge nostalgia trip, rather than a legitimate and necessary defence by British voters of the sovereignty fundamental to our democracy.

I don’t regret backing Brexit, but I am willing to say that the government has largely failed to take proper advantage of the freedoms that leaving the EU provides. It is fair enough that for these past two years it has been rather distracted, but Covid is even more reason to stop messing around with measurement systems and to get back to addressing the genuine challenges facing voters today.

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