Boris Johnson is poised to mark the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee with a post-Brexit pledge to bring back pounds and ounces in Britain’s shops.
Whitehall sources have told Sky News he will announce on Friday that imperial measurements are to be revived as part of a bonfire of EU regulations.
His promise of legislation will be seen as “red meat” designed to appeal to pro-Brexit voters in Red Wall constituencies and older Conservative supporters.
But it is likely to be ridiculed by Opposition MPs and denounced as a waste of taxpayers’ money. Some people under 40, used to metric, may also struggle with yards or ounces.
At present traders are legally obliged to use metric measurements such as grams, kilograms, milli-litres and litres when selling packaged or loose goods in England, Scotland and Wales.
As opposed to the metric system of weight, in which 1,000 grams are equivalent to one kilogram, under the imperial system there are 14 pounds in a stone and 16 ounces in a pound.
And for liquids, 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.
‘An important step in taking back control of our national rules’
The revival of imperial measures comes after the prime minister’s appointment of Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg earlier this year as Brexit Opportunities Minister with a brief to slash Brussels red tape.
But as far back as the 2019 election campaign Mr Johnson promised a new “era of generosity and tolerance towards traditional measurements” and claimed measuring in pounds and ounces was an “ancient liberty”.
And in a policy paper entitled “Brexit Opportunities” last September, the Cabinet Office vowed to “review the EU ban on markings and sales in imperial units and legislate in due course”.
Then Brexit minister Lord Frost declared: “Overbearing regulations were often conceived and agreed in Brussels with little consideration of the UK national interest. We now have the opportunity to do things differently.”
And Business Minister Paul Scully added: “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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The move is also a victory for “metric martyr” campaigners such as Sunderland grocer Steven Thoburn, who waged a three-year legal battle after being prosecuted for selling in pounds and ounces on his market stall in 2001.
Reaction from the primeminister’s opponents and critics to his plans for an imperial measures revival was scathing.
Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon tweeted: “To paraphrase – ‘those whom the gods seek to destroy they first make utterly ridiculous’.”
And former Cabinet minister David Gauke tweeted: “The announcement of the return of imperial measurements is an important recent tradition which we should all celebrate. I’m already looking forward to the next time this is announced.”