Andrew Tettenborn

The Tories have messed up the return to imperial measurements

Credit: PA images

Cheers! You will soon once again be able to buy champagne and wine in pint bottles – Winston Churchill’s favourite measure. It will be possible for the first time since an overbearing Common Market (as it was then) effectively put an end to the practice in 1973. This is very good news, and I’m certainly looking forward to drinking my first pint of fizz – the ideal unit for one person – over dinner. 

But look further, and any satisfaction may well vanish in much the same way the bubbles in your celebratory glass might if you put it down too long. How this whole affair of reintroducing imperial measurements has been handled is a horrible sign of a flailing Tory administration that has lost its way.

Switching fully to imperial measurements wouldn’t even have involved much logistical difficulty

Even though compulsory use of metric measurements played a large, if subliminal, part in the Brexit saga, this is not an end to it. It has become merely a small piece of gesture politics, greeted predictably by many as an anticlimax. Outside the fairly rarefied area of still and sparkling wine, the corpus of mandatory metrication remains. We still have the requirement to deal and count in metric units, with everything else essentially for play only. If your butcher weighs you a pound of rump for old time’s sake, he must make it clear that any imperial units are for information, and less conspicuously marked on price labels and the like. For those of us who fought to get rid of nonsense of this sort as one of the dividends of Brexit, this looks like a piece of serious short-changing.

All this is a betrayal of what should be the Tory principles of freedom and of nurturing existing institutions. The conservative case for leaving the EU was sound precisely because the principle of the absolute supremacy of European law not only relegated parliament to the level of some subordinate provincial council, but also demanded that the state intervene forcibly to suppress well-established and organic ways of doing things.

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