Britain’s retailers have warned prime minister Boris Johnson that his plan to bring back imperial measures will push up the price of goods — because they would need relabelling — just as consumers are battling the worst cost of living crisis for a generation.
The British Retail Consortium, which represents some of the biggest supermarkets and retail chains in the country, said that reintroducing measurements in pounds and ounces would be a “distraction” from the huge problems facing the country.
BEIS, the business department, will launch a consultation on Friday looking at whether retailers should be able to sell products in imperial measurements rather than metric.
The move is already being dubbed as a “benefit” of Britain leaving the EU and has been embraced by some pro-Brexit politicians.
However, critics have accused ministers of producing the policy in an attempt to distract the public from the “partygate” scandal and an economic crisis caused by the surging price of energy which has left Johnson’s ruling Conservative party trailing in the opinion polls.
Andrea Martinez-Inchausti, assistant director of food at the BRC, said that supermarkets were focused on delivering the best value for money for their customers at a time of “intense” inflationary pressures. The price of groceries has risen by about 6 per cent in the past year.
“Introducing new laws to change the way we measure food and drink would both distract from this vital task, and add cost and complexity if existing products are required to be relabelled,” she said. Martinez-Inchausti pointed out that shops were already allowed to indicate imperial measures alongside metric ones.
Britain formally brought in the metric system in 1965, with some exceptions such as milk and beer which are still sold in pints.
A group of fruit and vegetable traders called the “Metric Martyrs” came to prominence 20 years ago when they began a campaign for traders to sell products in imperial units.
But, while the EU originally ordered the UK to stop using imperial units alongside the metric system, it dropped that demand in 2007.
Joe Harrison, chief executive of the National Market Traders Federation, said it made little sense for stalls to shift back to imperial when most young people had grown up with metric measurements.
Harrison told the Daily Telegraph that the shift would be a “hassle”, adding: “For what purpose? Seems like it would just be hanging on to the past, nostalgia.”
Meanwhile, the Chartered Trading Standards Institute has expressed concern about the idea of reintroducing imperial measurements, warning that the move had the potential to “confuse” customers who have only ever been taught in metric.
John Herriman, chief executive of the CTSI, said the true impact of any proposed changes needed to be understood.
“We understand the desire to create a feelgood factor, especially during a time of many profound economic challenges,” he said.
“However, at a time when consumers and businesses are already feeling the pinch from higher prices and inflation, it is really important that any proposed measures don’t bamboozle the public on value for money and the prices of everyday items, or add unnecessary costs and confusion to business.”