The Sun runs an article on 31 August by Bill Cash MP claiming the EU has banned the use of pounds and ounces. The paper follows up by suggesting ten ways to “say up yours to the EU.” This may be intended as humour. But it repeats inaccuracies and misleading statements which seem to be widely believed and therefore are worth correcting yet again.
First, the EU has never banned pounds and ounces or other imperial measures. EU law does require metric measurements to be used – though already in 1965, eight years before joining the EEC, the Wilson Government decided to initiate the UK’s metrication programme, in response to global moves in this direction. However, EU law has always allowed imperial measures to be used alongside metric ones – as the Sun itself acknowledged at the bottom of this earlier article. Visiting any supermarket or market stall is enough to confirm this. This issue has been addressed on this blog several times, for example here, back in 2001.
The Sun proposes “having cleaner carpets by swapping weak, EU regulated vacuums for powerful ones”. In fact, consumer magazine “Which” has found that new EU rules – backed by Member States, industry and consumer groups – on the specifications for vacuum cleaners (the facts here) have led to better performance and cheaper running costs. In any case it is uncertain that vacuum cleaner manufacturers, who operate globally, would want to produce models generally considered obsolete just for UK markets.
There are no proposals on the table to introduce similar rules for hair dryers, toasters or other appliances not already covered, as referred to in two of the Sun’s helpful suggestions for saying “up yours” to the EU and as we explain here. Only if there is cast-iron scientific evidence will the Commission put forward such proposals, and in any case they would need to be agreed by Member States and the European Parliament. If such evidence were clearly established, it would remain to be seen whether the UK parliament or public – inside or outside the EU – would wish to create unnecessary pollution, environmental damage and higher electricity bills by insisting on energy guzzling appliances, even in the event that manufacturers did want to keep producing them.
Another suggestion the Sun puts forward is bringing back old-fashioned incandescent light bulbs that require changing more often and thus cost consumers more. The Sun is correct that incandescent light bulbs have been phased out in the EU, not on the basis of a high-handed bureaucratic decision but as a result of a clear mandate from elected ministers and MEPs. They have been, or are being, phased out also in the US, Canada, Switzerland, China, Australia, Brazil, Russia and many other jurisdictions. Again, we have covered this issue in earlier entries and again there does not so far seem to be any evidence that the UK – which supported the EU measures – would now want to go against this global trend.
The Sun also calls for the UK to “reclaim jam” from EU rules that stipulate it should have 60% sugar content. But the rules already allow flexibility on this. What is more, the British media – including the Sun – have previously complained about this very flexibility, saying it would “ruin British jam”! This saga is explained here.
There are no EU rules preventing the recycling of tea bags. Again this is a very old – and wrong – story.
This leaves four more ways in which the Sun believes the UK could in future deliver a resounding “up yours” to its EU friends and neighbours.
“Scrapping tough EU fishing quotas” would mean scrapping a system the UK has broadly backed, which has been successful in restoring stocks and which has also been substantially reformed in recent years in a process partly driven by the UK. It would also require international negotiations.
Removing VAT from gas and electricity might mean slightly cheaper energy bills – energy is currently subject to a 5% VAT rate in the UK, the lowest in the EU – but the revenue would need to be made up elsewhere. British business has welcomed most EU VAT rules as they combine a considerable degree of flexibility with reducing red tape.
The Sun calls for the UK to “reclaim countryside from turbines and solar panels, built to meet EU targets.” The UK has been a leading voice calling for tough EU targets. Successive governments have identified renewable energy, which now accounts for a quarter of the country’s power supplies, as a major economic and environmental opportunity.
Finally, the Home Office has said there are “no immediate plans” to bring back blue British passports. It is worth noting, too, that there are now global norms for the format of passports, based on the ISO/IEC 7810 ID-3 standard and intended to ensure universal machine readability. This standard does not cover colour but does specify a size of 125 × 88 mm (4.921 × 3.465 in) and a flexible cover, as used in EU passports. The EU format for passports complies with this and was formally agreed between EU governments, including the UK.