Brexit – where next?

Our series of articles on Brexit concludes with speculation on the future for the UK and its measurement muddle.

Fog surrounds Brexit. The position will only become clearer when both sides set out their negotiating positions. However it is clear is that autarchy is out. The new Foreign Secretary has been at pains to say that we will remain part of Europe though outside the EU. Even politicians who want as little to do with the EU as possible after Brexit, say the UK will need to develop new trading relationships around the world, in particular with developing nations like India and China. So forget North Korea Mark 2.

Equally, we will not be going back to 1941. There will be no meeting between President and PM on a battleship off Newfoundland, looking at issues of common interest including the situation in Europe. Obama has already made that clear.

Currently around half of the UK’s trade is with the EU. Post Brexit, there is a range of options for maintaining this lifeline. At one extreme, there is membership of the European Economic Area (EEA) also known as the “Norway option”. This involves:
* membership of a free trade area which includes all EU countries, plus Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway;
* free movement of goods, services and labour within the EEA;
* payment of a subscription to the EU (Norway is the EU’s tenth largest contributor though not a member); and
* little influence on the formulation of EU law and regulations.
At the other extreme is the use of World Trade Organisation rules, with no formal relationship with the EU. For both options and for every one in between, there is no escape from the need for the UK to have industries capable of producing metric goods and served by a workforce familiar with metric measures. There is little demand around the world for pound–inch products, unless you are a giant company, like Boeing or Lockheed, with a near-monopoly market position. Needless to say, there are not many of those in the UK.

Manufacturing has shrunk as a proportion of the UK economy from around a third immediately post WW2 to around a tenth today, its place being taken by services such as banking, insurance, IT and tourism which rely less on an international measurement system. But even fervent Brexiteers admit that exporting of manufactured goods will remain just as important in the future. Add to this the fact that science, technology, engineering, construction, medicine, health, sport and many other parts of the UK economy are entirely metric, together with the supermarkets which supply around 90% of our groceries, and the scope for a return to Imperial measures seems limited.

In most other Commonwealth countries, there has been no EU to blame for ‘difficult’ aspects of the metric changeover. Governments saw it as their duty to explain and persuade. Their adoption of metric measures appeared to go more smoothly than in the UK and many have now completed the process. Perhaps the UK Government will learn lessons from them, for the current measurement muddle benefits only our competitors?

Now we offshore islanders can enjoy a period of reflection, and only then decide where our future lies. If eventually the UK, or what remains of it, concludes its future should continue to be linked to the EU, one hopes that there will be a greater commitment second time round to making the relationship succeed. But if we decide to strike out on our own, then is it too much to expect there to be an objective examination of the case for completing the adoption of a single simple measurement system, as has happened so often elsewhere in the world?

52 thoughts on “Brexit – where next?”

  1. Personally I believe we (collectively) have shot ourselves in the foot; as the days and weeks pass it is becoming clearer that the EU holds all the cards, the irony being that if/when the plug is actually pulled on our EU membership we will very much be forced to accept a lot of things for which we currently have exceptions.

    Metrication could be one of them, the EU could insist that all products sold in the EU originating in the UK have no imperial measures on them, unlike the US we would not have the economic clout to say no. I’m sure the irony wouldn’t be lost on any of us who have said ad nauseum that the EU did not force metrication on us.


  2. @Ramsden

    Despite the majority of the British workforce preferring to use imperial units in their private lives the UK is still:
    * the largest aerospace producer in Europe (and the world’s 2nd behind the US) with 17% of the world’s aerospace market
    * the largest defence producer in Europe (and the world’s 2nd behind the US)
    * the world’s 5th largest electronics producer
    * the 3rd largest car producer in Europe (behind Germany and Spain)
    * the 4th largest food and drink producer in Europe (behind Germany, France and Italy)


  3. Brexit where next, judging by what I have seen, backwards unfortunately. Just amazed that people associate metric with the EU.


  4. Having just returned from visiting my family in Spain, I was very stunned to see psi on the air pressure gauge at some petrol stations! They were manufactured here and did have bar on the outer ring. What is the point in dual-labelling of theses gauges? Futile, I think.


  5. Brexit will not turn out to be the paradise the Brexiters are hoping for. They see that presently the horrors that were predicted have not yet to occurred, but only because article 50 has not been invoked. Yet, the pound has fallen to the point where it is affecting the financial markets.

    As mentioned, the British economy functioned without industry entirely due to the financial sector where other people’s money is laundered. The opponents to the EU and metrication defended this as “inward investment” and that made the UK great in their eyes and the UK can “prosper” continuously along these lines. However, this type of inward investment is not stable nor infinite. It also incurs huge deficits that one day will have to be paid at a huge cost. Norway was often glorified for being able to be out of the EU but prosperous. This had everything to do with oil income, but as a lot of countries found out when the oil prices tanked, that prosperity can quickly dry up.

    In order for the financial markets to prosper in the future they will need a huge economy to sponsor them. That economy presently is the EU, but being out that sponsorship ends. In order to attract inward investment, England needs to have a strong currency. The euro won’t work for England as the euro needs to be weak in order for exports to become cheap as is the case with Germany. But being small and with no sponsor, the pound can’t gain the strength to become a financial leader. Brexit kill that chance.

    The only way to be prosperous is to be diverse, to manufacture and most importantly: export. With manufacturing in the UK only at 10 % of total economic activity, the UK would need to boost that to greater than 50 % to bring in the income and jobs to be prosperous. That is not going to happen.

    England was once a big empire and thrived on the possessions of others and countries like Germany wanted a big piece of that pie and started two world wars in an attempt to achieve it. But they lost both and ended up devastated even if only temporarily. Germany has learned this time that to rule, you have to be a market leader, not a political institution. You control people without them knowing. Germany will resist any attempt by England to interfere with its control of the world’s markets.

    England joining the EEA will benefit Germany more than England. This is possibly what Germany wanted all along. England still pays to sell in Europe and if the borders remain open, Germany can make it a one way road where goods, metric goods go into England but no imperial goods come out, that is if there is a reversion, which there won’t be. Germany will still call the shots and England won’t be in a position to demand derogations. Germany can and will make metrication an issue of trade. It is a win-win situation for Germany.

    England will get no sympathy from the Commonwealth. The Commonwealth is completely metric and has no intention to revert. England is mostly metric and reversion as a major force will be too costly for an economy on the edge of instability. England won’t be able to keep its promises with Scotland as it won’t have the funds to do so. Scotland will leave the UK and either go it alone or at least try or form a union with Ireland and Northern Ireland. This way they are back in the EU and will become fully metric.

    The next decade will bring major changes to England, but none that will please the English people. Be careful what you wish for, you just might get it.


  6. The problem is that options such as the EEA may not be available to us, or least on terms that we would be happy with. And some EEA members simply do not trust us to be fully committed members (just as we weren’t committed to the EU), so will oppose any application for membership.

    Added to that is the fact that we are still members of the WTO and have to abide by their rules. I read that the Director General of the WTO has reminded us that our terms of trade will have to be proposed, negotiated and agreed with every single one of the 164 WTO members. We cannot simply unilaterally impose our own terms of trade.

    Whether you were in favour of staying or leaving the EU, the UK is now on a path that is going to be excruciatingly difficult for the next ten years at least, and which will end with a very changed UK at the end of it (and likely changed by being economically in hoc to half the world). That world will likely enforce complete metrication upon us. All those (and there were many judging by the numbers of letters in the press) who thought leaving the EU could mean we could revert to imperial are going to be bitterly disappointed.


  7. Still a Mess:
    “The UK currently uses a mixture of metric units (like metres, kilos and litres) and imperial units (like inches, pounds and gallons).”
    Kilos? Kilograms presumably.


  8. Looks like Northern Ireland, just like Scotland, wants the majority Remain vote taken in that part of the UK to be respected:

    Too soon to tell for sure, but it would be telling if Scotland goes independent, adopts metric road signs, and then Northern Ireland decides to take a similar step both to harmonize with the Republic of Ireland and to make the border with the Republic more transparent to Northern Irelanders.


  9. @ Charlie P

    The British public (or even the British workforce) do not ‘prefer’ to use imperial units in their private lives. The simple fact is that metrication has not been completed in the UK and for that reason metric units have not become second nature in all areas of some people’s lives. If your argument were true, Australians would probably ‘prefer’ to use imperial units in their private lives too. But as we know, the use of imperial in Australia has almost completely disappeared because Australia completed its programme of metrication and did it properly and thoroughly. Metrication has stalled in the UK. That is the only reason that some, but not all Britons, still use imperial units in some parts of their everyday lives. It is not an active preference, it is a legacy of being left in measurement limbo. It is a result of the NHS generally refusing to use metric when speaking to patients who have learnt metric units at school. It is the result of the police and the emergency services not having been encouraged to engage with the public in the metric units they use at work. It is the result of the right-wing media in particular ‘holding out’ against the big, wide world they nevertheless claim we are part of as a ‘global economic player’. The simple fact is that if I go into a pub and want a draught beer in my private life, I ‘have’ to ask for it in an imperial unit. I do not ‘prefer’ to do that. If I drive my car in my private life, I ‘have’ to relate to ‘miles’ and all the other non-metric units on road signs, if I want to or not. This is not a preference. It is simply a reflection of the measurement mess the UK finds itself in.


  10. @Charlie P:

    Manufacturing in the UK has been on the decline since the 1990s.

    Peaking at just 19 % in the early ’90s to about 10 % of GDP today. A similar experience for the US:

    So it would appear UK job’s market involves very little exposure to manufacturing and thus very little exposure to measuring, such that imperial preferring workforce isn’t working where measurements are used. If they had a greater exposure to metric in their work, they would prefer it over imperial.


  11. @Ezra: @Daniel:

    From what I’ve read just lately, Northern Ireland will likely unite with the Republic before Scotland can secede from the UK. That’s primarily because controls on immigration (probably the most prominent ‘driver’ of the vote to leave) cannot work with the current Irish open border. Rather than a hard border to control immigration, which neither the North nor the Republic wants, Ireland will more likely unite leaving no border. That will mean the North’s road signs will HAVE to convert.

    Scotland OTH is hamstrung by its huge deficit (currently 9% of GDP and well above the EU’s limit of 3%). Unless the EU breaks its own rules (not unknown but at this level of deficit this seems unlikely), Scotland has no choice but to remain attached to England and Wales, especially with current low oil prices, the main component of the Scottish economy.

    So I expect to see metric road signs in NI before Scotland. But who knows? Nicola Sturgeon is a feisty person if nothing else, and, poor Scottish economy notwithstanding, she just may do something like try to convert Scotland’s road signs anyway, just to stick two fingers up to Westminster.


  12. As has already been suggested, an unintended consequence of Brexit may very well be more pressure on the UK to finish metricating.

    For instance, the EU might require the UK to put metric-only information on packaged goods (no supplementary indications) that are exported to the EU. If along with that the USA finally permits metric-only labeling on packaged goods sold in the USA and its territories and possessions (by amending the Fair Packaging and Labeling Act or FPLA), UK companies would be faced with the choice of packaging goods with metric-only labels that can be shipped anywhere as-is or else print some packages with supplementary indications just for the UK.

    Anyone want to do a back-of-the-envelope estimate of which approach would be cheaper for UK companies? 😉


  13. @Ezra Steinberg:

    That’s probably not the best example. It’s been a long time since I bought any consumable with imperial supplementary labels on pre-packaged UK goods (no refrigerated-to-retail milk for me)—even for the home market and never on what little stuff I see exported to continental Europe. Nor many `soft’ conversions in place of rational metric sizes, unlike the USA. If UK businesses currently have these options; they exercise them infrequently, if at all.

    All the evidence seems to suggest that UK businesses are collectively pro-metric, pro-harmonisation of markets and anti-Brexit. The imperial holdouts post documents the extent of incomplete metrication here—plus air traffic control which most of the supposedly metric world has little appetite for metricating, either!

    One distinct possibility is that some/ all of the UK will try to stay in the single market but without any further say on setting the rules. The UK could very easily then lose its derogations for imperial units altogether as an impediment to EEA-wide competition—including road signs, for the road haulage and associated industries. This would be far more of an imposition on the obstructionists and isolationists in the UK public sector than the already-metricated private sector.


  14. Well, it looks like Theresa May’s comments to the Tory Party conference are quite unambiguous:

    Given the way she seems to be framing how the UK will approach Brexit, I worry that the metric muddle has an indefinite future in Old Blighty. 😦


  15. And now the Scottish Parliament is threatening to veto Theresa May’s proposed repeal of the European Communities Act of 1972 as a prelude to invoking Article 50:

    So, once again we see the beginnings of a possibly serious fault line between Scotland and Westminster when it comes to Brexit.

    If things really go sour, I have no doubt Ms Sturgeon will conduct a second referendum for Scottish independence. And if that happens and an independent Scotland can expedite its membership into the EU, I believe an independent Scotland could very well be convinced to follow the Irish example when it comes to converting road signs (and metricating pretty much everything else as well) to clearly demonstrate to the rest of the EU that they are committed to being a full partner with Europe (as well as sending the last vestiges of English domination packing in the bargain).

    William Wallace lives! 🙂


  16. @Mark Williams:

    Very interesting observations, Mark. Thank you for posting.

    So, Imperial on packaged goods and soft conversions to metric have all but disappeared in the UK, eh? Good news, that!

    And, yes, the UK could indeed find itself with a requirement to abandon Imperial altogether (e.g. road signs) if it tries to keep favorable trading arrangements with the EU while not being a part of the decision-making process. It still seems like border and immigration controls will be the stickiest point … not sure how May and Company will be able to sort that one out in Britain’s favor.

    So, either the UK makes a special arrangement with the EU but has to ditch Imperial completely or else Britain gets no special consideration and has to trade via WTO rules alone. In that case Scotland might very well break away and finish metricating on its own (which I think is highly likely in an independent Scotland for all kinds of reasons).

    As they like to say on the radio: “Stay tuned!” 🙂


  17. So, things are heating up with Scotland (via Sturgeon and the SNP) saying they will oppose “Hard Brexit” and the Great Repeal Bill:

    This part of the article also caught my eye:

    “Members will be asked to agree that “conference believes that every avenue must be explored to keep Scotland in the EU”, adding that “if no viable solution to safeguard our membership as part of the UK exists, Scotland should prepare for a second independence referendum and seek to remain in Europe as an independent country”.

    So, the path is being laid out for Scotland to leave the UK if the Hard Brexiters have their way (which they quite likely will if the High Court rules that the PM and her ministers can carry out Brexit without legislation approved by Parliament under royal prerogative).

    Looks like spell-binding politics are playing out on BOTH sides of The Pond! 🙂


  18. So now the plot thickens.

    Donald Tusk, European Council President, has just said that Brexit means Hard Brexit (or else stay in the EU):

    And Francois Hollande of France has been taking a hard line as well. Nor is he alone among the members of the EU.

    Since immigration and control of the borders have become synonymous with Brexit, I find it hard to see how the UK can avoid leaving the EU completely, at which point it must trade with the EU under WTO (World Trade Organization) rules.

    Also, I heard on the BBC World Service last night that Australia and New Zealand have approached the UK government about negotiating trade deals with those countries. The irony in that scenario is that in any such trade deal the UK would have to label and document all of their products exclusively in metric for those two markets.

    Ironically, the feckless UK governments since Maggie Thatcher when it comes to metrication will likely suffer the fate described by Jean de la Fontaine in one of his fables:

    “One often meets one’s destiny on the very road one has taken seeking to escape it.” 😉


  19. The All Parliamentary Group on Modern Languages is concerned that Brexit will create a shortage of foreign language teachers:

    In reading the arguments in the BBC article for maintaining fluency in the UK in multiple languages for world trade, I could not help but see the parallels for the UK maintaining (indeed, improving) fluency in metric for trade purposes as well.

    Again, it seems like Brexit could end up increasing pressure on the UK to present a more convincing metric face to the rest of the world to improve trade with other countries (outside the USA). This could end up also convincing the government (finally) to end the metric muddle and finish up metrication in order to place the UK on a par with, for example, Australia when it comes to the level of real metrication in the country.

    BWMA partisans may wind up learning the Law of Unintended Consequences if they thought Brexit would help Britain restore Imperial … potentially quite the reverse!


  20. @Ezra Steinberg:

    Oh yes, the imperial on labels `disappeared’ what seems like decades ago. Have just had a rummage through the kitchen and everything is labelled in metric-only and virtually all in rational sizes. The only `soft’ conversions were jam (454 g) and vinegar (568 ml). The only occasionally non-rational sizes were herbs and spices—all in standardised volumetric (usually 100 ml) containers but labelled exclusively in grams. Sheets of building material are the only other `soft’ conversion I routinely encounter—and even that might just be a cutting/ trimming allowance…

    In listening to all the politicians droning on about this, we are encouraged to believe that they actually contribute to the wealth of the nation or produce something which could be traded and are otherwise indispensable. But the precise opposite is the case. We only had the EU referendum because the ruling political party, on seizing control of the UK parliament in 2015 (with ~35% of the electors), were haemorrhaging support to a rival right-wing [single-issue anti-EU/ workers’ rights/ regulation] party and decided that they had to `do something’ about that. When the result didn’t go according to plan, they had to parachute a new prime minister in—bypassing even an election amongst their own members. A typically corrupt British mess. While we are still in the phoney exit phase, all her rhetoric is still concentrated on salvaging the original project. Similarly, any anti-metric agitation falls into the same category as blue/ black passport covers and doesn’t necessarily mean anything substantive. After a few manufactured crises and possibly a new king, the eventual outcome might be even stranger than the satire :-).

    As you might have spotted, most of the `imperial holdouts’ stem from the public sector and media symbiosis—national health service, police force, permanent civil servants, newspaper barons, etc. Now that they have got `their’ country back, they might try to impose a punitive settlement on the 48% remain voters—which largely comprise those who do produce stuff and trade extensively with the EU. In which case, as the Chinese might say; `may you live in interesting times’!


  21. Even though Scotland has got a lot of attention regarding how it will respond to Brexit, more attention is now also being payed to the impact on Northern Ireland:

    How striking that the first image in the BBC video is the sign at the border saying “Speed limits in miles per hour”. Won’t it be nice when that sign can be taken down for good!


  22. So much is still up in the air until the Supreme Court rules on whether Parliament has to approve invoking Article 50. If it happens that they side with the government, that will be all the more reason for them to forge ahead with a Hard Brexit since they will want to take advantage of the green light that the court will have given them.

    What that means in terms of timing and particulars regarding Brexit is anyone’s guess at the moment. Nonetheless, Business Daily on the BBC World Service had an interesting program with a guest who was an experienced trade negotiator:

    He made it clear that trade negotiations are a very long, drawn-out, and prosaic business. Who knows how the UK will fare (or even if the kingdom will stay intact)? The net result could easily be (as I have said before) more pressure on the UK to not only metricate in practice, but to present a truly metric “face” to the rest of the world (outside the USA). This will almost certainly require metricating road signs (especially if Scotland winds up leaving the UK and gets into the EU as an independent country since I strongly suspect they would then follow Ireland’s example with respect to road signs).

    One more data point on the influence of road signs on popular metric usage: As I have observed previously, Canada’s conversion of road signs to metric back in the 1970’s has resulted in Canadians consistently eschewing “miles” in favor of “kilometers”.

    I saw this again while viewing Lionardo di Capria’s film about climate change “Before the Flood” (which is an excellent film on the topic, btw). The Canadian who was talking about the tar sands in Alberta and the extraction and delivery of crude oil from those deposits used “kilometers” as easily and as naturally as any Australian would. What is so telling in my view is that all the Canadians I have met or seen being interviewed on television or the radio do this despite Canada being much less metricated than Australia is. This was in stark contrast to the Americans who were interviewed later and who could only speak in terms of “miles” when describing distances.

    I have no doubt that once road signs get converted in the UK, whether in the entire kingdom all at once or piecemeal starting with Scotland, it will be essentially “game over” for Imperial over there.

    (That will also help us here in the USA to advance the cause of metrication since tourists, business people, and government folks spending time in the UK will then become much more cognizant of metric in the face of a highly visible “metric face” in the UK — a country that we here in the States continue to have a very special relationship. 🙂


  23. Ezra Steinberg wrote re Northern Ireland: “How striking that the first image in the BBC video is the sign at the border saying “Speed limits in miles per hour”. Won’t it be nice when that sign can be taken down for good!”

    Yes, and how ironic those signs are. We are told that by the DfT that it would cost a fortune to metricate the UK’s road signs, yet they manage to find the money to put up signs that effectively say ‘Nothing has changed’!


  24. Now with Trump about to be President of the USA it looks like there are two different forces that could come into play as part of Brexit.

    Philip Hammond is now hosting the Chinese (a fully metric country) to discuss trade while at the same time Trump has made very warm comments about the UK and quickly invited Theresa May to come visit the USA (a near totally “Imperial” country).

    So, which force will carry the day? The drive to harmonize with the world outside the USA when it comes to trade by finishing up metrication (including converting road signs to present a more metric face to the rest of the world as well as move the population to comfort and full fluency with metric)? Or perhaps the drive to slipstream the USA in order to have a more powerful presence on the world stage, which will likely stall full metrication in the UK (since I doubt Trump and his advisers have any interest at all in metricating America).

    And what impact will a favorable trade agreement with the USA have on Scotland’s desire to stay within the EU if that agreement significantly boosts trade and lifts up the UK economy and spurs the growth of jobs throughout the UK (including Scotland)?

    So many known unknowns (let alone the unknown unknowns … with thanks to Donald Rumsfeld, sort of … )


  25. Daniel Jackson says: 2016-11-19 at 08:40

    Your FT link is to a subscription page. Here is the same drivel on the Express site: –
    This is just a re-run of an old ARM story cashing in on the current wave of sentiment. Something tells me this may just all back fire on them. Too many metric only youngsters out there now (the under 60 year olds!). Reading the comments though, the Express is the more of the usual nonsense stuff as to be expected, the FT article is part of their “divisive Britain” series “former deputy world news editor Joshua Chaffin (@JoshuaChaffin) will be exploring the divides in the UK across regions, demographies and wealth, linking up with the FT’s team of regional correspondents in a new UK correspondent role.” The comments are more in keeping with common sense.


  26. This subject is getting more attention than need be. A number of media outlets have picked up on this vandal’s activities. But where is the equal space for the pro-metric side who see metrication as a needed change for the improvement of the living standard, economic growth and meaningful jobs?


  27. Speaking of the divides across the UK, it seems like Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland are more on the same page with each other than with England when it comes to staying as close to the EU as possible. Too bad PM Theresa May is not really reaching out to these devolved areas:

    And the EU for its part is playing hardball with the UK when it comes to the terms of Brexit:

    So, if the government ends up needing to adopt a Hard Brexit if that is the only way to get immigration controls (a redline for all the Brexiters), it will definitely push Scotland towards its own exit.

    Moreover, will the EU sit still if the UK tries to give special access to Irish citizens when it comes to entering the UK (specifically NI)? I hardly think so. In that case Northern Ireland will have to figure out what to do if a hard border gets set up between themselves and the Republic of Ireland in order to enforce immigration controls.

    So, business interests will be at odds with the populist desire to turn back the clock to before Britain became part of the EU (and, if they could, back to the days of the Empire!) Which will win out? Larger business and the City of London will want to be well connected to the rest of the world (especially the EU) but also to Commonwealth countries as well, all of which are metric (with Canada being the lone muddle exception but still partially metric).

    Only time will tell how things will turn out. In the longer run I suspect the forces of connectedness will win out, which can only help the cause of completing metrication in the UK (especially if Scotland leaves the UK, joins the EU as its own country, and metricates on its own before what is left of the UK).


  28. An additional comment to my last post it should be stated that the comments to the Cambridge News and Daily Mail are overwhelming pro-metric and consider the removal of signs as vandalism.

    Readers may wish to go to these sites and voice their support for metrication, including up-voting pro-metric comments. Also, if you haven’t by now, vote for the petition and have your family and friends do the same:


  29. @Ezra Steinberg:

    Remember that Philip Hammond is the same buffoon who, only six years ago as transport minister, temporarily postponed withdrawal of imperial-only height and width road signs—ultimately resulting in none of the promised cost savings. The Chinese will easily run rings around him.

    `Slipstream the USA in order to have a more powerful presence on the world stage’; what did you think we’d been doing since the aftermath of WW2 :-)? The problem is that too many others regard USA as a very backward country and its non-metrication is only a small part of that. Donald Trump has previous in Scotland—last time he showed up, protesters lined the streets with Mexican flags! Elite USA citizens ought to easily run rings around him.

    `Which force will carry the day’; I’m hoping for either a quiet coup or slow revolt in UK. The latter will provide more opportunities for further metrication. Stalling progress in USA until we change the road signs is not much of a plan, IMO. During the wait, you are just being left further behind. You could be a lot more proactive to start catching up in the meantime. Do your own transactions exclusively in metric (including buying gasoline, etc.), take your marker pen to dual labels in shops, get your school children to learn only SI (and keep this up for many decades), meaningfully reform USMA, etc.


  30. What happens with Northern Ireland as a result of Brexit will pose some real challenges when it comes to handling the border. Here is the First Minister speaking to the BBC about this:

    Why she thinks there is a difference between being “unique” and being “special” is beyond me, I’m afraid. I suspect things will be tougher than they like to think (just as it will be for the UK in general).


  31. Today’s Sunday Times gave details of a new threat to BREXIT. All European Union members along with Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein are also members of the European Economic Area. The British referendum as whether or not the UK should withdraw from the EU made no mention of withdrawal from the EEA. A court case is now being launched to clarify whether or not the UK’s withdrawal from the EU will automatically cause the UK to withdraw from the EEA. If this is not the case, then the UK can only withdraw from the EEA following an explicit motion from Parliament.
    If the UK withdraws from the EU, but not from the EEA then the UK will withdraw from the EU’s common agricultural policy and common fisheries policy but will otherwise have to abide by all EU directives without having a say in them. Moreover the UK will have to pay a subscription to access the EU’s open market. This means that when EU directive 80/181/EEC next comes up for review, the UK will have to accept whatever the EU decide without being consulted.


  32. Curiously, the former leader of UKIP is now predicting a Norwegian style settlement.

    Even if he is only half right, it is becoming increasingly clear that a clean break is unlikely. I guess the reality is that the UK is just in too deep for a complete withdrawal.

    One thing we can be reasonably sure of is that metrication will not be reversed.


  33. @Martin:

    I seem to remember reading somewhere that the UK’s membership of the EEA would automatically cease on leaving the EU. In which case, the UK would have to re-apply to join the EEA. This Norway would object to, fearing a) the UK would be an overwhelming force compared to the other members, and b) the UK is not to be trusted in terms of being a member for the good of the organisation rather than simply furthering only the UK’s narrow interests (e.g. access to the single market via the back door, as it were). I may be wrong on this, but with so many different expert opinions flying around as to what’s possible and what’s not, who knows.

    Another example of the mess Brexit represents.


  34. @John

    Your reading is perfectly correct. As you rightly say, BREXIT is one enormous mess. The articles that I read suggest that the role of the UK within the EEA is to be determined by the appropriate European courts.


  35. According to this report the Republic of Ireland will not sign a bilateral deal with the UK. Instead, the UK will have to negotiate a deal with the EU first.

    Given the thorny issue of the status of UK nationals in the EU (high on May’s agenda for Brexit) and the status of EU nationals in the UK, it looks like the issue of the land border between Ireland and NI could also wind up being thornier that the optimists are hoping for at the moment.

    This will put pressure on NI to figure out how to keep the border open, which could get even more interesting if Ireland is willing to amend its constitution to provide guarantees to the Protestant majority that would persuade them to unite with the Republic.

    In that event, if Scotland leaves the UK as well, the kingdom could dwindle down to just England and Wales.

    Talk about the unintended consequences of Brexit!


  36. And now we have Lord King, former governor of the Bank of England, saying there are serious questions about whether the UK should even be in the customs union after leaving the EU:

    So, forget Norway, Switzerland, or even Turkey as a model for the UK post-Brexit. In that case we really have a hard Brexit with the UK going forward only via WTO (World Trade Organization) rules.

    Of course, it is hard to see how PM May can have it both ways. She wants guarantees for Brits in other EU countries to stay there and keep working while being able to control immigrants from EU countries coming into the UK plus she wants to avoid rules coming from Brussels or paying them too much money. She also wants to avoid tariffs or quotas on British goods entering the EU all the while remaining outside of the EU.

    In the end the UK could end up totally outside Europe as just another country (like, maybe, Guatemala?) In that scenario we presumably have a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic, resulting maybe in a push to unite the island of Ireland (bye-bye NI), and resulting almost certainly in another push by the SNP to go independent.

    If all that happens I think it inevitable that both NI and Scotland metricate their road signs (among other things). For NI it is a no-brainer if they unite with Ireland (since all road signs would have to be consistent on the island). As for Scotland, it will want to show it is putting out the welcome mat to the rest of the EU to get admitted in an expedited way as an independent country in to the EU and dropping Imperial altogether would be one sure way to signal that to the other members of the EU.

    As they say on the radio, stay tuned, dear listeners ….


  37. There is definitely a collision in the works for Theresa May and how she handles Brexit:

    Leave Means Leave wants a clean break (aka “Hard Brexit”). On the other hand May is being warned that if the UK falls into the WTO gap, there will be trouble, including a hard border between the Irelands and Scotland thrown out into the cold (as part of the UK).

    If the latter happens, we all know Scotland could bolt from the UK. Even Northern Ireland might go as well if the Republic of Ireland can offer a deal that addresses the Ulsterites’ concerns about their rights and safety as part of a unified Ireland.

    Can’t wait to hear what May proposes for triggering Article 50 and what kind of response that evokes.

    Happy New Year, y’all! 🙂


  38. Ezra,

    To put everything into context out of a total population in the UK of 61 000 000, only 17 410 742 voted to leave and 16 141 241 voted to remain. That is only 28 % of the total population voted to leave. No matter how you look at it, the vote was not overwhelming yet the Brexiters treat it like it was. This could mean that those who voted to remain will make attempts to prevent an initiation of article 50 or make the exits negotiations a disaster. It may even lead to civil war.

    The EU has made it clear to Scotland that when the UK goes, Scotland will have to go with it. Even if Scotland were to become independent of the UK it would have to apply all over again and wait for the EU to accept it or reject it.

    Even though this is highly unlikely to happen, an independent Scotland and northern Ireland may be able to get back into the EU by unifying with Ireland. I’m really not sure how this would work, that is how the EU would react if an EU member merges with a non-EU member.

    If this were to happen, I can see Ulster having its signs switched over and coming under all provisions of the Irish Weights & Measures Act (WMA). Scotland would too come under the Irish WMA but there may not be as much of a hurry to metricate the signs but at least metric signs would not be illegal. But on the other hand Scotland would do as much as they can to be different from England.


  39. And so the plot thickens:

    PM May and her lot are likely dreaming if they can have their cake and eat it, too. She wants control of immigration to the UK, no jurisdiction under the European Court of Justice, and protection for UK citizens living in other countries in the EU. But it doesn’t look like she’s going to get any of that with the EU (or even as part of the European Economic Area).

    As the article points out, it is not likely Angela Merkel will save the day for May’s hopes for how Brexit plays out (assuming Merkel can even hang on as Chancellor). So, the UK will quite likely end up totally outside Europe as just another WTO (World Trade Organization) country. This gives the UK total control over its borders, judiciary, etc. but with no special deals for selling its goods and services into Europe.

    Say good-bye to Northern Ireland and Scotland if that’s the way it goes? We’ll see, won’t we?


  40. So, Nicola Sturgeon has laid down the gauntlet when it comes to what she expects from Brexit for Scotland and how that can affect a new referendum on independence:

    I think the smart money still favors a hard Brexit, which can only lead to a new referendum on independence for Scotland. (Plus, a hard Brexit will wreak havoc at the border between NI and the Republic.)

    Fasten your seat belts, folks … the ride gets pretty bumpy from here. 😉


  41. It looks like Theresa May is playing with fire when it comes to Brexit and Scotland:

    If May stays the course she appears to be charting, Scotland will almost certainly get another crack at independence. If that happens, I think full metrication in Scotland will be one of the things that happens over there pretty quickly as part of making its best case for quick acceptance into the EU as a new member state.


  42. Ezra Steinberg says: 2017-01-05 at 23:37

    Well, today’s news seems to suggest we will be out – out. The best news (at least for me) is for once we may not be a half out , half in country. So I guess WTO rules it will be. I can (almost) pretty much live with that, but if we are to engage with the rest of the world in trade we really do need to show a firm commitment to world standards.
    If Trump does abandon the TPPA then China will press for ahead with its version (Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership?) Which will inevitably be all metric. That will in turn exclude USC measures. UK must surely be fully metric in world trade anyway, this move may release us from USC compliance and/ or acceptance.
    The fly in the ointment is any US UK deal which will certainly be totally US dominated with, in all probability, UK being FORCED into accepting USC measures at least in FPL on US goods (with or without metric). That will be the real big backward step, just like Canada but without the UK commitment to metric that Canada has.


  43. Brian,

    The only way Trump will make a deal with the UK is if trade is one way, that is from the US to the UK and the US will flood the UK with USC. Of course, UK businesses and firms won’t go for that just like back in 1948 they agreed to adopt unified inch screw standards created in the US. However, they never did, instead in the 1960s they adopted ISO metric fasteners. However you look at it, the UK is up the creek without a paddle.

    If Trump kills NAFTA, Canada will have to increase trade with the EU and Asia, which will mean the US flooding or forcing USC sizing on Canada will come to an end. If Trump isolates the US from the world, it would work to the world’s advantage in that any USC the US has pushed on the world will cease. This will be an opportune moment for metric supporters everywhere to locate remnant uses of USC in their home countries and fight to have it changed.


  44. Now that we’ve heard Theresa May’s speech about her plans for how to leave the EU and the reaction to that speech from various parties (EU, Scotland FM, Wales, NI, etc.) it certainly looks like the UK is careening towards your basic WTO trading partner status vis-a-vis the EU modulo some modest agreements regarding tariffs, quotas, maybe reduced paperwork, etc.

    Based on what Nicola Sturgeon has said, another independence referendum is more likely than not to happen in 2018. Northern Ireland is having snap elections now thanks to Sinn Fein pulling out of Stormont, and Wales is very worried about the prospects of having their exports to Europe drop significantly. Plus, the likelihood of a much harder border between Ireland and NI seems to be quite significant.

    What will things look like once the dust has settled? Hard to say, but by 2020 we could see an independent Scotland and maybe even a rapprochement between Ireland and Ulster as a possible step towards unification. All of this will likely diminish the value of Imperial to what’s left of the UK, especially if Scotland and NI decide to scrap Imperial road signs (each for their own reasons).

    And with the hoped-for bilateral trade deals that both May and Johnson are currently touting with Canada, Australia, New Zealand, etc. there may be even more impetus for Westminster to jettison the last vestiges of Imperial in order to facilitate trade with those fully (or significantly metric in the case of Canada) countries.

    Like the PM likes to keep saying: “Brexit means Brexit!”


  45. So now the Northern Ireland police force is afraid of the consequences of a hard Brexit and a resulting hard border:

    So the devolved constituencies (NI, Scotland, even Wales) are staring at some bleak prospects if May has her way and the EU plays its own version of what we call “hard ball”.

    And it looks like Sinn Fein has put up a young, charismatic new leader. Who knows where NI will end up once the UK has officially pulled out of the EU?


  46. The former prime minister of the Republic of Ireland is worried that a fairly hard border between Ireland and NI will be the outcome of Brexit:

    If he’s right (and others are predicting the same outcome), there is going to be more pressure in Northern Ireland to seek some kind of rapprochement with the Republic of Ireland.

    Who knows? If the Republic offers the right changes to its constitution to satisfy enough of the Ulsterites, maybe a plebiscite would be held to unify the island (assuming the UK government allows it). If it is approved, that would get those counties back inside the EU, which presumably is what they want. (It would also certainly mean metric road signs as well. 🙂

    In any case all of this kerfuffle in Northern Ireland is most certainly sending a signal to Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP that they should expect at some point to go ahead with Indyref2. The big question is whether Westminster will allow it so that the SNP knows they will recognise the result (if it goes in favour of independence).

    Oh, what a tangled web Westminster weaves! (Hat tip to William Shakespeare 🙂


  47. Local councils along the border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic are definitely worried about Brexit:

    At the end of the day the result of all this could be unification of the island. If that happens, there is no doubt the relatively small number of road signs in Northern Ireland will be quickly converted to metric for all the obvious reasons.

    And Scotland may not be far behind if the Scots see leaving the UK in order to join the EU as an independent country is the smart thing to do. Converting their road signs would also not be very expensive and a great signal to the EU that they are casting their lot with the EU rather than Westminster.


  48. Concerns about what will happen to the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic post-Brexit continue to mount:

    And is the proposed “solution” by some to limit border controls to transportation access points in England, Scotland, and Wales really feasible?


  49. Looks like the border between Ireland and NI is going to be an even thornier problem than even I, myself, feared:

    What Brexit means for eventual metrication of road signs in NI (or the entire UK) or unification of the island is still quite unclear.

    And now Plaid Cymru is talking about an indy ref for Wales!


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