Bring back imperial measures? They must be joking!

Imperial standard measurement, Greenwich. Wikimedia Commons

I was astonished to read today that the government is considering yet another Brexit-related backward step, this time on the “reintroduction” of the old imperial system.

It’s not as if the old imperial measures have actually disappeared from this country – as one wag (James Felton) put it, he is fed up with having to order 568 millilitres of beer. And anybody driving on our roads will certainly never have noticed any change from signs in miles to kilometres.

Yet, in spite of the fact that virtually every country in the world (with the exceptions of Myanmar, Liberia and the USA) now uses metric (with very limited and specific exceptions) and would certainly expect any relevant exports from Britain to be measured in metric units, Britain is proposing to step back into the past. There is something absurd in the contradiction between – on the one hand – this government’s desire for a “Global Britain” and – on the other hand – its desire to return to an antiquated measurement system that most of the rest of the globe has rejected.

Scientists universally use metric

The metric system is also used universally by the world’s scientists (including in the USA – NASA, for example, went metric about 30 years ago). It would be a colossal millstone around the neck of the UK’s scientists, and would separate them further from their European and other colleagues, if (surely unthinkable) the government were to press for a return to imperial measures in scientific fields.

Metric is easier

There are very sound reasons for the metric system – it is, quite simply, considerably easier to use. Try working out how many inches there are in a mile. (That’s 12 x 3 x 1,760. I’ll leave this as an exercise for the reader). Now contrast this with working out how many centimetres there are in a kilometre. As most people know, there are 100 centimetres in a metre and 1,000 metres in a kilometre. So, the answer must be 100,000. Easy. We would be handicapping our children if they were in any way forced to go back to learning imperial measures.

This is potentially another Brexit disaster. We should definitely give it a miss. And never forget that a miss is as good as 1.6093 kilometres.