Monday, August 29, 2005

Bring it on

Some time ago in a pub in Brussels, I held forth to an audience of Dutch, Belgian, French and Danish colleagues, on the merits of the Imperial measurement system.

Take distance I said. We start with an inch. Twelve inches make a foot, three feet make a yard, five-and-a-half yards make a rod, four rods make a chain – some 22 yards – ten chains make a furlong and eight furlongs a mile. That is one thousand, seven hundred and sixty yards or five thousand, two hundred and eighty feet.

They sat there for a little while, silent, their mouths open in wonderment at the stunning simplicity of the system. At least, I think that's why they said nothing. And now, having already foisted part of that Napoleonic curse that is the Metric system, the EU commission wants to go all they way and rob us of the mile and, heavens forfend, the pint.

So says the Observer yesterday, backed up by a report in the Financial Times today, so it must be true.

According to the Observer, Brussels has said enough is enough to the uniquely British mess. Commission officials have ordered the government to announce a date when it will abolish the use of pints, miles and even Britain's farmers' acres (although farmers now have to use the accursed hectares if they want subsidy).

A spokesman for the European Commission said the UK government had to fix a date "as soon as possible". Whitehall sources, however, are distinctly nervous about the move, knowing that it hits a highly sensitive spot, and is saying that there is no prospect of banning pints in the immediate future.

In fact, it seems, the development has triggered panic in Whitehall. Any suggestion that Britain should rid itself completely of all Imperial measurements is, commentators believe, political suicide. In addition, an order from the commission is likely to set Britain on another war footing with Brussels.

Nevertheless, the commission seems to be set on its own suicide, warning that if the government fails to comply with its demands for a date, the UK risks facing an "infringement procedure" that would force Britain's hand and, ultimately, could take the country to the ECJ.

However, The Financial Times report suggests that EU commissioner Gunter Verheugen's is being cautious, his spokesman saying: "We want to avoid this becoming another Euro-scare story." According to other sources, the commission prefers to work on persuasion rather forcing people to change.

Of course, it is not going to succeed with some of us. These days, my tolerance for Metric – which I used happily before compulsory metrication – is now diminishing. I listen to the news for as long as it takes the first hack to mention a metric measurement and then I hit the "off" button.

Recently, aired again on the TV Discovery channel was the history of a WWII Spitfire. At one moment, against the backdrop of superb flying shot, part of the pilot's log book is read out, describing an action during the Battle of Britain. But some mindless fool has converted heights to metres and speed to kilometres per hour. I find that so offensive, and I still haven't seen the whole film.

Thus, I welcome any move by the EU to hasten the compulsory introduction of full Metric. It will expose more fully the lie that the EU does not threaten our national identity, as the Imperial system is very much part of what we are. And, as the late Steve Thoburn and the very much alive Neil Herron showed, it will be met with very stiff and public resistance.

And uncomprehending commission will find, therefore, that it hastens the demise of the EU. Bring it on.


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