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UK Metric Association falsehood exposed

On 28 and 29 August 2005, the British press reported that the European Commission was pressing the British government to set an date for the end of the mile on British road signs. Several papers referred to "unnamed parties" within the UK who had been lobbying the EC to apply pressure (for example, the Sunday Times and Financial Times).

On 31 August, the UK Metric Association went on record to deny that they had contacted the EC on this issue. Their press release stated:

"Metric group has NOT contacted EU Commission...

The UKMA has had no contact with the European Commission in the last 12 months … The EC has no power to require the UK to name an early date for phasing out pints of beer or miles on road signs … UKMA has therefore not lobbied the Commission on this point".

Here is a scan of UKMA's press release:


UKMA's Chairman Robin Paice made a similar denial in a letter in the Financial Times, published the same day.

May I clarify the position of the UKMA on the question of involving the European Commission in pressing the British government to honour its commitment to complete the metric changeover?

...The European Commission has no power to require the UK to name an early date for phasing out pints of beer or miles on road signs, and UKMA has not therefore lobbied the Commission on this point.

Here is a scan of Mr Paice's letter:


UKMA's assertions are false; the UKMA has been lobbying the EC.

The truth of the matter is revealed on the Department for Transport's website at this location:


(Note: in the event of the above link being removed, a pdf version of the document can be retrieved by clicking here).

The document is a DfT letter responding to an enquiry into British government policy on setting an end-date for the mile. The DfT's letter is dated 17 June 2005 and is in reply to a letter dated 20 April 2005. It commences as follows:

As can be seen, the DfT has removed the name of the person requesting information. However, the parts that reveal the UKMA's involvement are points 9 to 11:

Requests 9 and 10 shows that the matter being considered is Britain's failure to set an end-date for the mile on road signs, as required by the EC.

The Department for Transport's response to Request 11 is the one that reveals the role of the UKMA: the UKMA Director has made a complaint to the European Commission on this point - the same point over which UKMA has issued the above denials.

Furthermore, when the document is printed off, it includes a footnote: "050617PAICEUKMA3.DOC". Here is a scan, actual size:

And here is magnified scan:

The first six digits refer to the date of the letter, and "Paice" would appear to be the UKMA's Chairman Robin Paice. This suggests that the DfT's letter was addressed to him. The UKMA3 would imply that this is the third letter that the DfT has written to UKMA, an interpretation confirmed by their opening paragraph.

In a nutshell, it can be deduced that UKMA's Chairman wrote to the DfT on 20 April 2005 to request information surrounding the UK government's failure to set a date for the abolition of the mile. The DfT's reason for being unable to provide all the information requested lay in the fact that UKMA was already initiating proceedings against the British government in Brussels.

Therefore, the assertions made by UKMA in its 31 August press statement, and by Mr Paice in his letter to the Financial Times, would appear to be false.

BWMA Comment

BWMA has, of course, been aware of this document from the outset. BWMA knew that UKMA was the "unnamed party" referred to in newspaper reports. But we did not use the DfT's inadvertent disclosure to "expose" UKMA's role. In a democratic society, individuals and associations are entitled to lobby and make complaints in confidence. While some of us may consider secret lobbying by a public body to be unethical, we have to accept that UKMA has the right to do so.

What is not acceptable is to tell falsehoods and to mislead. If UKMA wants to keep quiet about its role in Brussels, then it should do precisely that - keep quiet. To write letters to the national press saying they have had "no contact for 12 months" and have "not lobbied the EC" is not something that can go unchallenged, hence the production of the above press releases, letters and documents on this webpage.

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