Minister accepts 'metric is easier' after imperial plan labelled 'ludicrous dead cat'

The PM's plan to bring back imperial units is being criticised but a Brexit-supporting Tory says it is about freedom of choice' and 'rolling back EU red tape'. Credit: PA

A minister has accepted the metric system of measuring is easier to use after Boris Johnson's plan to bring back the more-complicated imperial version was attacked by a peer as being a "ludicrous" idea designed to distract from the government's problems.

A return to the use of pounds and ounces is being planned to mark the Queen's Platinum Jubilee, 22 years after a law was introduced which forced traders to advertise using metric measurements such as grams and kilograms.

While imperial units are still allowed to be used alongside metric, the prime minister wants to take advantage of Brexit by allowing traders to choose their preferred system and is using a consultation to consider the policy.

Technology minister Chris Philp told ITV News: "It's probably easier to do it with metric measurements but I think it's good to give people a choice so they can make their own minds up".

Minister accepts metric is 'easier':

But Baroness Jenny Jones said Prime Minister Johnson had taken the opportunity to "throw a dead cat on the table and make us talk about this very trivial issue instead of all the other stuff that's going on", adding: "It's a distractive measure."

She told ITV's Good Morning Britain it's a "ludicrous suggestion" because it is "still perfectly legal" to use imperial measurements as long as they are alongside their metric counterparts.

What is the law on imperial measurements and what is the UK's history with metric?

Minister Mr Philp told ITV News that imperial measurements are "part of [the UK's] cultural history" - and he isn't wrong.

Imperials units such as the yard have been used in the UK for several hundred years and the system was established in law from 1824.

It was the UK's official system until the year 2000 when the EU weights and measures directive came into force.

But adoption of the metric system began in 1965 when President of the Board of Trade Douglas Jay told the Commons the government was aiming to replace imperial with metric.

He said: "Government consider it desirable that British industries on a broadening front should adopt metric units, sector by sector, until that system can become in time the primary system of weights and measures for the country as a whole."

It remains legal to price goods in pounds and ounces but they have to be displayed alongside the price in grams and kilogrammes, which should be given prominence.

The UK currently uses a mix of imperial and metric, with speed limits in miles per hour rather than kilometres, and milk and beer bought in pints.

Food packaging in supermarkets is mainly labelled in grams, while most soft drinks and other liquids on shop shelves are sold in litres.

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What is the difference between imperial and metric?

The imperial system is criticised as being complicated and arbitrary, based on the way things were measured hundreds of years ago.

The metric system appears more logical and is based on decimals, meaning units go up in 10s, 100s, and 1,000s.

In the metric system, 1,000 grams are equivalent to one kilogram, whereas under the imperial system there are 14 pounds in a stone and 16 ounces in a pound.

For liquids, there are 20 fluid ounces in a pint and 160 fluid ounces in a gallon, as opposed to 1,000 millilitres in a litre under the metric system.

Tory backbenchers disagree on plan as dozens lose confidence in Boris Johnson

Brexit-supporter Mark Francois denied the policy was a dead cat, insisting the move was "about freedom of choice".

"There's an important point of principle here," he said, "which is that now we've left the EU, now we want to, if parliament decides to, we can divulge from all of these different directives and regulations that we inherited from the European Union".

He told GMB he hopes the move is "part of a wider trend of rolling back EU red tape, where we choose to do so, because Parliament now has the legal right to do that".

But the move has faced criticism from the Conservative backbenches, with Tobias Ellwood – a Tory MP among what reports say could be more than 40 who have lost confidence in the prime minister - poured scorn on the plan.

"There will be some people in our party which will like this nostalgic policy in the hope that it's enough to win the next election. But this is not the case. This is not one-nation Conservative thinking that is required to appeal beyond our base," he told Sky News.

Mr Ellwood was heckled in the Commons last week when he called on Mr Johnson to go, but he said the amount of support he has received privately for what he was saying is "really interesting".

Mr Philp told ITV News "there is no question at all in my mind that this government can be re-elected" if it delivers on manifesto promises such as addressing crime and fixing the NHS.

And he said he's confident Mr Johnson will be the party leader who achieves that victory.

Alicia Kearns, another Tory who has lost confidence in the PM, tweeted that “not one constituent, ever, has asked for this."

The MP for Rutland and Melton added: “This isn’t a Brexit freedom. It’s a nonsense.”