Brex­i­teers fight­ing EU’s met­ric sys­tem

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

Armed with high-vis jack­ets, a lad­der and a half-inch span­ner, Tony Ben­nett and Derek Nor­man are the foot soldiers of Brexit, wag­ing a slow but suc­cess­ful bat­tle against met­ri­ca­tion, one street at a time. As the set­ting sun casts an or­ange glow on the high street in Thaxted, a small town in south­east Eng­land, Ben­nett care­fully sticks a plas­tic card onto a street sign so it gives dis­tances in yards, not me­ters. “They were such nice signs, it was a shame to al­ter them,” Nor­man, the 82-yearold chair­man of Ac­tive Re­sis­tance to Met­ri­ca­tion (ARM), told AFP.

Speak­ing at his home in Huntingdon, east­ern Eng­land, af­ter the Thaxted job, he said im­pe­rial mea­sure­ments are “part of our cul­ture” that need de­fend­ing. Bri­tain first be­gan in­tro­duc­ing the met­ric sys­tem in the 1960s, and the move was ac­cel­er­ated by the need to har­mo­nize mea­sure­ments across the Euro­pean Union. But the gov­ern­ment has stepped back from ditch­ing im­pe­rial mea­sures al­to­gether due to pub­lic op­po­si­tion, driven by ac­tivists such as Nor­man and Ben­net­tboth sup­port­ers of the anti-EU UK In­de­pen­dence Party (UKIP).

To­day, while most pub­lic busi­ness and pack­aged food use met­ric units, traf­fic signs are in miles and yards and beer, cider and milk are sold in pints. In the con­fu­sion, lo­cal au­thor­i­ties and busi­nesses con­tinue to in­stall signs in me­ters-which Nor­man and Ben­nett, ARM’s sec­re­tary, feel they have a duty to amend.

“When we took down the first sign my heart was beat­ing in fear that we would be ar­rested,” said Ben­nett. “Af­ter you do it a few times, you lose the fear.” They see their cam­paign as a cru­cial part in har­ness­ing sup­port for Bri­tain to leave the Euro­pean Union, which cul­mi­nated in the June vote for Brexit.

Ar­rested seven times

ARM’s 15-year cam­paign is tes­ta­ment to the au­thor­ity of the high-vis jacket of­ten they are left alone to amend or re­move signs, with passers-by and even po­lice as­sum­ing they are work­ing for a lo­cal au­thor­ity. In jobs rang­ing from Stansted Air­port to the Tower of Lon­don, Ben­nett in­sists they are only tak­ing down il­le­gal signs and are there­fore do­ing noth­ing wrong. The 69-year-old says that more of­ten than not lo­cal au­thor­i­ties ad­mit their mis­take and amend the signs them­selves, with more than 3,000 signs taken down na­tion­wide as a re­sult.

How­ever, he has been ar­rested seven times and in 2002 was con­victed of crim­i­nal dam­age and theft, although the lat­ter con­vic­tion was over­turned. On the wall in Nor­man’s sit­ting room is a car­toon of green­gro­cer Stephen Thoburn, one of the “Met­ric Mar­tyrs” who was pros­e­cuted for fail­ing to ad­here to the new rules on met­ric weights and mea­sures.

“I have felt that I’m a rebel. but I also feel that there’s re­ally a lot of peo­ple who feel like me and they’re rebels as well,” said Nor­man, sip­ping a cup of tea. At its peak, ARM was made up of about 100 ac­tivists, in­clud­ing Nor­man’s wife Kay, who acted as a look-out. Her co­de­name was “half-pint”, while Nor­man’s was “wun-tun”. Ben­nett opted for “hun­dred­weight”, be­cause, he ex­plained, “it’s a quirky mea­sure — 112 pounds-that sum­ma­rizes our weights and mea­sures sys­tem. It’s com­pletely daft but we like it.”

‘Time will prove their folly’

A for­mer Royal Air Force ra­dio en­gi­neer, Nor­man ac­cepts that the met­ric sys­tem is here to stay for many ar­eas of pub­lic life. But he says: “Most peo­ple mea­sure their height in feet and inches, most peo­ple want to lose a pound or a stone in weight-and that’s na­tion­wide. Why do we need to change?” He adds: “It was our own sys­tem of mea­sure­ments that brought about the in­dus­trial rev­o­lu­tion and put the great into Great Bri­tain.”

For Derek Pol­lard, the sec­re­tary of the UK Met­ric As­so­ci­a­tion, how­ever, the cur­rent sys­tem is un­sus­tain­able. “There are al­ready many ar­eas of met­ric us­age in the UK econ­omy, from con­struc­tion and man­u­fac­tur­ing, sci­ence, medicine and map­ping, and for these, there is no go­ing back,” he told AFP. He sees no ben­e­fit in pros­e­cut­ing peo­ple like ARM through the courts, how­ever, say­ing: “Time will prove the folly of their ac­tiv­i­ties.” —AFP

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