It was meant to be one of the sure-fire wins for Brexit, but plans to bring back imperial measurements face criticism over claims of a biased government review.
Ministers were keen to launch a review to revive imperial measurements – such as pounds and ounces – and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), now overseen by Jacob Rees-Mogg, conducted a government consultation over the summer. However, the questions appeared to have something missing.
The survey asked consumers: “If you had a choice, would you want to purchase items: i) in imperial units ii) in imperial units alongside a metric equivalent.”
No other option was given.
Officials said respondents who wanted to keep the current metric system could send in an email to the department or give their views in one of the text boxes in the survey.
The BBC Radio 4 programme More or Less last week highlighted concerns about the survey and criticism of it on social media.
One Twitter user commented: “This survey is being punted out by BEIS. It is so slanted that the words nearly slide off the page.”
Dr Pamela Campanelli, a consultant on survey methods who has advised local government, told More or Less: “This is missing the category that you would prefer metric only. We’re going to get a biased answer, because people have to choose something that doesn’t apply to them.
“It seems like they’re actually trying to sculpt or lead the responses towards what they want, because they want people to go back to imperial.”
France adopted a metric system in the late 18th century, and a Decimalisation Assocation was founded in Britain in 1841 to lobby for a new system for currency and measurements. A report by a standards commission in the 1860s recommended metrication for Britain, but it was another 100 years before a government board was set up in 1969 to promote and coordinate metrication.
Once Britain joined the European Economic Community in 1973, the government committed to adopting the metric system. Regulations introduced in 1995 required goods to be sold in metric units in the UK.
In a high profile case in 2002, five market traders – know as the “metric martyrs” – lost their court battle for a right to trade in pounds and ounces. The battle was supported by celebrities including the comedian John Cleese and politicians including Boris Johnson.
Rees-Mogg, who had a cabinet role to identify Brexit opportunities, has been a long-term supporter of using imperial measurements. The proposed change is however unlikely to be hailed as a significant Brexit dividend.
“Not one constituent, ever, has asked for this,” Conservative MP Alicia Kearns tweeted earlier this year. “This isn’t a Brexit freedom. It’s a nonsense.”
BEIS officials say the purpose of the consultation was to examine how greater choice could be given to businesses and consumers. The government has not yet said when the response to the consultation will be published.