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British Government Wants to Bring Back Imperial Measurements

The plan was ridiculed online as a desire for old white guys to return to the 1970s.

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Potatoes are displayed for sale in imperial measurements in Darlington England on September 6, 2018.
Potatoes are displayed for sale in imperial measurements in Darlington England on September 6, 2018.
Photo: Oli Scarff/AFP (Getty Images)

The UK government has released a 23-item list of things it will pursue now that it’s no longer part of the European Union. And one item in particular is raising quite a few eyebrows. Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government says it wants to let retailers list goods solely in imperial measurements rather than metric.

Britain officially converted to the metric system in 1965, but just like the commonwealth countries of Canada and Australia, there’s still a mix of measurements—both metric and imperial—in everyday usage throughout the UK.


When the UK was part of the European bloc, EU rules meant that British retailers could only list imperial measurements as long as metric measurements were given as well. But Johnson wants to let stores list things in just feet and ounces again, rather than grams and liters.

The proposal sparked ridicule and confusion from some Brits online, with one writer for the Financial Times jokingly saying, “YES. Can’t wait to be able to go a pub and order a pint again.” The joke, of course, being that you can still order a pint at any bar in the UK because the British never really converted to metric completely.


“There’s a branch of British nationalism which is basically a bunch of older white guys who wish it was still the 1970s,” a political strategist from Scotland tweeted on Thursday.

Historically, use of the imperial system has created a lot of confusion, and even some disasters when people have mixed it up with the metric system. Like that time NASA’s Mars Orbiter crashed into the red planet in 1999 because the calculations were confused between imperial and metric, destroying the $125 million piece of space gear in the process. Or the time a Canadian airplane ran out of fuel mid-flight in 1983 because they measured the fuel in pounds rather than kilograms.

Even the U.S., the sole large country in the world that still uses the imperial system predominantly, doesn’t have a strictly imperial-based measurement system when you look closely. American kids learn metric measurements in science classes and medications are doled out in metric at pharmacies from Houston to Des Moines.

At the end of the day, many countries around the world use a mix of metric and imperial measurements, but there is something almost desperate about this new push by the UK’s conservative government. Could Boris Johnson be focused on anything more pressing right now? Probably, when you consider the viral photos of empty grocery store shelves, a direct result of Brexit.