Page last updated at 21:08 GMT, Tuesday, 16 December 2008

Britain wins battle for the pint

File pic of woman drinking beer
The pint of beer is safe and won't be replaced by the litre

Amid the economic gloom, UK drinkers have found a measure of good news - the pint will not have to be renamed.

Decades of wrangling with the EU over switching to metric measures has ended with a vote confirming that imperial measures can carry on indefinitely.

The European Commission acknowledged last year that persuading the UK to embrace litres and kilometres over pints and miles was a lost cause.

Minister for Europe Caroline Flint said it was a "victory for common sense".

The vote means a 2009 deadline to end the use of imperial measurements alongside metric units has been scrapped.

Innovation, Universities and Skills Secretary John Denham, who is responsible for national weights and measures, was delighted.

He said after the European Parliament vote: "People in Britain like their pint and their mile. They should be able to use the measures they are most familiar with, and now they can be sure that they will continue to do so.

"We made strong arguments for the UK's right to carry on using pints and miles and maintaining dual metric and imperial labelling.

"I know how important this is to the British people and businesses and am grateful for the Commission's support."

Europe Minister Caroline Flint

Europe Minister Caroline Flint said: "This is a victory for common sense. It shows that the EU is listening to the concerns of businesses and consumers and is not intent on imposing a 'one-size-fits-all' regime where unnecessary.

"In the current difficult economic climate, it will also mean that British companies do not face extra labelling costs in order to do business in the United States."

Since 1995, goods sold in Europe have had to display metric weights and measurements, but to appease a public outcry in the UK, imperial indications have also been allowed.

That concession to British tradition was due to expire in 2009, when imperial measures faced the final curtain - banished from packaging and market stalls.

The reprieve follows months of Commission consultations with British industry, trade and consumer groups, an exercise which convinced European officials emotions were still running high over the imperial system and a move to metric-only in the UK would give sceptics more ammunition for the anti-EU campaign.

File pic of metric martyr supporters
The issue of metrification aroused strong passions with many in the UK

The issue caused most controversy when Britain's so-called "metric martyrs" lost a battle to trade only in pounds and ounces.

One of them, Steve Thoburn, who died suddenly in 2004, had been convicted in 2001 of selling bananas only by the pound. His offence was to fail to provide customers with the metric equivalent, as required under EU law.

But the metric saga in the UK predates the EU - the government set up the UK metrication board in 1969, four years before joining the Common Market.

The request to look into metrication had come from industry in the mid-1960s.

Now schools routinely teach children to think of their weight in kilograms and their height in metres and centimetres, and petrol by the litre is common.

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