Brits’ pints and miles not disappearing yet

British and Irish efforts to retain their imperial measures of pints and miles while surrounded by the litres and kilometres of continental Europe moved a yard closer on Thursday as the European Union Parliament backed the moves.

The Parliament, sitting in Brussels, endorsed the proposal to allow the two EU neighbours to use both the imperial and the metric systems, with a simple show of hands.

Welcoming the move, EU Industry Commissioner Guenter Verheugen called it ”good news for British and Irish citizens, who are used to their traditions of miles and pints”.

Under the previous scheme, by the end of 2009 Britain and Ireland would have had to give firm dates for scrapping the imperial measures.

Under the new proposals, still to be put to the individual member states for final approval, reusable milk bottles and draught beer and cider may be sold as pints, road signs marked in miles and bullion sold in troy ounces.

For other goods, ”supplementary indications” may be retained by all EU nations. This is eurospeak for allowing imperial measurements — pounds, ounces, pints and so forth — to be used alongside metric ones.

Verheugen stressed that this is also good news for exporters who will be able to continue to have a single label for sales in the EU and the United States, which also uses the imperial system of measures.

One imperial casualty, though, is the acre. The European Commission had said that this imperial measure is no longer used for land registration in either Britain or Ireland and would be ”repealed”.

Also, Ireland has already switched its road signs to kilometres and metres, leaving Britain as the only EU nation using miles for speed limits and distances.

The United Kingdom Independence Party, which has members in the European parliaments but campaigns to bring Britain out of the EU, gave the parliamentary vote a grudging approval.

”It is very generous for them to allow us to keep the system that we have been using for at least 1 000 years,” said party spokesperson Gawain Towler.

The fight to keep the old measurements saw the appearance of the ”metric martyr” in Britain. Steve Thoburn, a trader in north-east England, was targeted by the British authorities back in 2000 for using imperial measures.

He died of a massive heart attack in 2004 days after learning that his appeal to the European Court of Human Rights, against a conviction for using non-metric scales in his greengrocer’s shop, had been rejected.

In September, the European Commission abandoned its efforts to ban the use of pints and pounds in the face of overwhelming public opposition in Britain and Ireland. — Sapa-AFP

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