Anthony Browne is a former director of Policy Exchange and a former Europe correspondent of the Times.
It was one of the most iconic battles against EU harmonisation – the imperial David against the metric Goliath. But in this version, Goliath won.
As the impotent British Government watched on, a small group of British grocers were turned into criminals for selling apples as they had been sold for centuries – in the imperial measure of pounds. In their long but futile battle for the freedom to sell their produce in the traditional British weights, the so-called Metric Martyrs became familiar faces in tabloid papers and TV programmes. But what they did contravened EU weights and measures regulations, which declared that all produce (except beer, cider, milk and precious metals such as gold) had to be sold in kilograms or litres.
After pressure from the UK Government, the EU conceded that imperial measures – pounds and pints – could be used, but only as supplementary measures that “couldn’t stand out more than metric measurement.” Selling apples by the pound was – and still is – illegal.
But Brexit returns the power to the British Government and Parliament to decide what measures grocers and others can use. A post-Brexit government could, if it wished, give back the freedom to grocers to sell a pound of apples if they want to.
Twenty years is a long time, and people in the UK are clearly a lot more comfortable buying goods in kilos than they were when the rules were introduced. But giving freedom back to grocers to be able to sell in traditional British weights would be very popular in many parts of the country, and especially with older voters. When she was Environment Secretary, Andrea Leadsom floated the possibility of doing it, but there has been little mention since.
If the Government did promise it, then those wishing to scrap Brexit would have to explain why they want to continue banning grocers from selling apples in pounds.