Which law actually says about imperial measurements – what will Boris Johnson really change?


Boris Johnson is set to announce crowns on pints and pounds of red meat this week in a patriotic return to imperial measures.

The Prime Minister is set to hail the “benefits of Brexit” during the Queen’s Jubilee, bringing back entities few Britons under 40 understand.

This week’s announcement – revealed by the Mirror – has almost as many folds as a hundredweight (112, if you must know!).

First, it was announced last year and is being revived to give the Prime Minister a break from Partygate. Comedian Stephen Mangan tweeted, “This dead cat weighs 6 pounds 4 ounces.”

Second, 20 years after the “metric martyrs,” critics say pushing it now is outdated. SNP MP Richard Thomson tweeted: “Next he will reintroduce rickets.”

Third, while Brits face a cost of living crisis, people say selling champagne by the pint is irrelevant. Labor MP Jess Phillips tweeted: “Yardley voted for Brexit literally nobody has ever taken metric vs imperial measurements with me. NOBODY.

Greengrocer Steve Thoburn, who in 2001 insisted on selling bananas by pounds and ounces


Alamy Stock Photo)

“Thousands have created poor tax-exempt housing that harms vulnerable people and harms neighborhoods.”

Fourth, in many cases, stores can use pounds and ounces in addition to kilos.

And fifth, it’s not clear to what extent things will change. Any restructuring might end up not making much of a difference to what you see in stores.

OK, so it’s not quite 112 problems.

But with so much conflicting information, let’s take a look at what UK law actually says about imperial measurements – and what Boris Johnson could change.

What does the law actually say about imperial measurements?

Due to EU law, the UK has been measuring most products using the metric system for over two decades.

Since 1995, most prepackaged goods must be labeled primarily in metric units.

The law then applied to butchers and greengrocers from 2000, making it a criminal offense to only sell goods in imperial units.

But the government’s claim that there is an “EU ban” on imperial units isn’t entirely true – it’s more subtle than that. Let us explain.

The law has definitely changed since the 1990s – but not quite in the way Boris Johnson’s team suggests


(Getty Images)

The EU’s original plan was to make the sale of goods in imperial units illegal. The deadline for this was repeatedly extended to 2009.

Then, after years of political struggles, that offer was dropped indefinitely – meaning UK shops and manufacturers CAN use imperial units.

This about-face gave the British the right to use “double labeling” on all goods.

This means that manufacturers or shopkeepers are free to use imperial units – as long as they also use metric units at the same time and the imperial unit is not “more important”.

This means that the font size for imperial units cannot be larger than metric.

At the same time Britain was allowed to sell beer, cider and milk in pints indefinitely; use miles on road signs; and sell precious metals in troy ounces.

When EU Industry Commissioner Gunter Verheugen announced the relegation in 2007, he said: “I want to end a decades-long bitter struggle that I believe is pointless.”

After years of fighting, an EU commissioner said it was “pointless” to force the UK to go fully metric


Alamy Stock Photo)

Are crown stamps actually forbidden on pint glasses?

This is annoying, and bear with us, but – it depends on who you ask.

The second part of Boris Johnson’s announcement is to bring back the crown stamp on pint glasses now that we’re from the EU.

The symbol, used since 1699 to guarantee a pint is the real deal, was phased out 15 years ago following an EU law.

But many people insist that the crown stamp isn’t technically banned.

Under a 2004 EU law that came into force in 2006, pint glasses and other measuring vessels must bear the EU’s ‘CE’ mark to show they conform to common standards.

In 2007, then Labor Secretary of Commerce Jim Fitzpatrick said the legislation meant crown stamping would be banned from new pint glasses. He told MPs: “The directive does not allow any other labeling of the measure.”

Boris Johnson’s Tory government agrees, saying there is an “EU-derived ban on printing the crown stamp on pint glasses”.

The crown symbol has been used since 1699


Alamy Stock Photo)

But the 2004 EU law seems to say the opposite. It states that “any other marking may be affixed to a glass” as long as it does not affect the “visibility and legibility” of the CE mark.

And a spokesman for the European Commission suggested manufacturers are free to use the crown stamp. They told the BBC: “EU law does not prohibit markings from being affixed to products as long as they do not overlap or are confused with the CE marking.”

Irish politician Neale Richmond slammed claims that the EU had banned the Crown Stamp, tweeting: “Outright lie, the EU didn’t do any such thing.”

Annoyingly for everyone, if you look at the UK Measuring Instruments Regulations 2016 (which incorporated the EU directive into our legal system) it is quite nuanced.

Yes, the law states that other markings can appear on pint glasses if they don’t obscure the CE mark. But it also states that these additional markings cannot “purport to confirm that the regulated meter meets the essential requirements”. What if a lawyer argued that the Crown is doing just that?

What would actually change under Boris Johnson’s plans?

OK, now you’re confused – what will actually happen under the plan announced by Boris Johnson?

Will we return to the heady days of 1952, when all meat was rationed by the pound and all pint glasses proudly sported crowns?

Um… not quite.

Crowns on pint glasses still wouldn’t be the legal symbol for an accurate measurement


Alamy Stock Photo)

While Churchill’s beloved pint of champagne (“enough for two for lunch and one for dinner”) could be brought back, there’s no suggestion that metric units will be dropped.

Instead, traders are more free to choose which measurement to use. Cabinet Secretary Brandon Lewis said: “We’re just saying the choice is now yours.”

We don’t yet know how big the selection is. Earlier, Secretary of Commerce Paul Scully said he would “consult to make sure we have the best evidence available.” And last year (before the restructuring was announced) he stressed that any new exemptions would be “limited”.

As for the crown stamp?

The government has always said that pinting on pints will be “voluntary” – it will not be the legal endorsement of a real pint.

If manufacturers wish to use the Crown stamp it must appear alongside the legally required ‘UKCA’ and ‘M’ markings which are replacing CE this year due to Brexit.

Wasn’t that announced earlier?

Yes, the government has announced its intention to do all of this in September 2021.

The difference now is that ministers have to work out more details (ahem) and take the next step of passing legislation.

Not everyone accepts the government’s patriotic timing so much, however – especially as the Prime Minister is looking for red meat for rebellious Tory Brexiteers via Partygate.

Former Tory MP David Gauke wryly observed: “Announcing the return of imperial measurements is an important new tradition that we should all celebrate.

“I look forward to the next announcement.”

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https://www.mirror.co.uk/news/politics/what-law-actually-says-imperial-27095926 Which law actually says about imperial measurements - what will Boris Johnson really change?

Fry Electronics Team

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