UKMA slates EU climb down on metrication

The UK Metric Association has accused the European Commission of “political cowardice” because it has caved in to American and European exporters – supported by the UK Government – and effectively abandoned the objective of a single, rational system of measurement throughout Europe.

The Commission has just published its response to the recent consultation on revising the Units of Measurement Directive. It is a badly written and illogical document, and UKMA has commented on it in the following press release:

The following press release was issued on Wednesday, 27 June:
“Pro-metric group slates EU climb-down
London, 27 June 2007.
The UK Metric Association (UKMA) today accused the European Commission of caving in to pressure from European and American exporters – supported by the UK Government – to be allowed to carry on using imperial and American weights and measures in packaging and product manuals. In its response to the recent consultation the Commission proposes that “supplementary indications” should be allowed indefinitely and that the obligation of the UK to “fix a date” for converting road signs to metric units should be removed.


UKMA Chairman, Robin Paice, commented: “This has all the signs of a stitch-up between the UK’s Department of Trade and Industry and the European Commission. The DTI has made it clear that they are implacably opposed to further metrication in the UK, and rather than challenge them, the Commission has bottled out and is proposing to abandon the objective of a single, rational system of measurement used and understood throughout the European Union.”

In its own submission to the Commission*, UKMA had argued that there is a simple solution to the problems allegedly encountered by transatlantic traders in coping with two conflicting labelling regimes (the USA mostly requires dual American/metric units on packages, whereas the EU had intended to require metric-only). All that is needed, said UKMA, is a reciprocal arrangement to accept each other’s labelling for imports and exports. Until such an agreement is reached the EU could unilaterally accept dual-labelling on American imports. Or if that is too difficult, dual labelling could be allowed on all packages and product manuals etc – but not on loose goods priced and weighed out by the trader.

The Commission’s report ignores this last point and attempts to justify its rejection of the mutual recognition argument by suggesting that third countries might complain that it also affected their exports and would be a non-tariff barrier to trade. This argument is clearly disingenuous since it would obviously be possible to devise wording that would accommodate this very minor problem. They thus appear (or pretend) to believe that two systems are cheaper than one.

The Commission has also agreed to support a UK proposal that it should not have to name a date for converting road signs to metric units. Citing both the UKMA cost estimate of £80 million and the Transport Department’s grossly inflated estimate of £800 million, the Commission’s paper comments that imperial road signs have “cultural significance and do not give rise to discomfort which can be considered a major benefit”. They have thus failed completely to understand the benefits of a single system as well as the hidden costs of continuing to muddle through with two systems. They have also ignored UKMA’s argument that the continued existence of imperial road signs is the biggest obstacle to the acceptance of metric measures in the UK in everyday life. “As long as we have miles, yards, feet and inches on the road signs, many people will not adapt to measuring up for curtains and carpets in metres and square metres.”, said Robin Paice.

He added: “Why should the refusal of the Americans to accept the world system condemn the British to endure indefinitely the misery and muddle of incompatible weights and measures in shops and markets. It undermines consumer protection (one of the Commission’s claimed new stated objectives) wastes our children’s education, and just prolongs this “very British mess**.It is a piece of political cowardice.”


*This can be seen at

** “A very British mess”, with foreword by Lord Howe, is published by the UK Metric Association and can be obtained via UKMA’s website at

Notes for editors:

(a) The UK Metric Association (UKMA) is an independent, non-party political, single issue pressure group which advocates the full adoption of the international metric system (“Système International” – SI) for all official, trade, legal, contractual and other purposes in the United Kingdom as soon as practicable. UKMA is financed entirely by membership subscriptions and personal donations.

(b) Further extensive background information can be found generally on UKMA’s website at .

(c) The following are available for interview or comment:

  • Robin Paice (Chairman) on 023 9275 5268 for telephone interviews
  • Roz Denny (Press Officer) on 020 7736 5383 or 0777 039 1581 for interviews in London or by telephone
  • Derek Pollard (Secretary) on 020 83746997 or 01304 375854″

Further comment:

Despite this deeply depressing cave-in by the Commission, there are perhaps two consolations that can be drawn:

  • The Commission has at least not accepted the demands of the extreme imperialists (the so-called “metric martyrs”) to go back to selling in pounds and ounces, nor is the UK Government supporting this.
  • If these proposals are actually enacted. The EU will effectively cease to have any say in UK weights and measures. It will then be possible to separate the metrication issue from the European issue, and it will be possible to make the case for completing metrication on its merits without having to refute silly arguments about Brussels bureaucrats.

One thought on “UKMA slates EU climb down on metrication”

  1. Much of the blame for this is on the British government. It was never a good “club member” of the EU – constantly trying to get the rules bent. Now we are out of it, it will be interesting to see how Ireland progresses, having had a much more convivial relationship with the EU and having benefited from it.


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