Friday 5 January 2024

The Brexit self-punishment machine

It’s tempting to ignore the government’s announcement, made in the doldrums between Christmas and the New Year, that it is to become legal to sell wine and champagne in pint bottles. It seems such a silly piece of fluff designed either to trigger remainer jeers or leaver cheers, and so it’s better not to rise to the bait. Yet on closer inspection it has more significance than that.

It certainly wasn’t ignored as fluff by Business Minister Kevin Hollinrake, who was moved to tweet that “this will help support businesses and grow the economy”, whilst the Mail celebrated it as an example of “post-Brexit freedoms” from what the Sun called the “Brussels killjoys”. For this reason alone, it’s worth discussing as an antidote to the still active, albeit increasingly risible, Brexit lie factory.

Myths about myths … built on myths

As with most Brexit stories, there is much which is obscure and convoluted, starting with whether pints of champagne were ever on sale and if so when. Without exception, every news report of this made mention of Churchill having supposedly favoured champagne pints, as if they rank with the Spitfire, or Vera Lynn singing of the white cliffs of Dover, in the endless mythologization of the Second World War that so pervades and deforms Brexity folklore. That Churchill did so was confirmed by a 2018 BBC interview with Hubert de Billy, the head of the Pol Roger company that supplied it. But it does not follow that the practice was widespread, and in that interview (which also features Brexit dunderhead ‘Sir’ Tim Martin getting all moist about Churchill), de Billy also explains that this bottle size was already dying out from the 1940s.

Meanwhile, Simon Berry, Chairman of Berry Bros and Rudd wine importers, a keen Brexiter who has campaigned for the re-introduction of champagne pints, mentions that the Conservative politician and diplomat Duff Cooper was bemoaning its demise as early as the First World War, and Berry’s own campaign started in the 1970s. At all events, it is unclear whether pints were ever available on the shelves of British shops, as opposed to direct supply, and, however supplied, it seems as if they had disappeared well before Britain joined the EU. So the whole idea of this being some fabled British tradition killed off by Brussels is a myth.

The government’s announcement implicitly acknowledged this, with the press release being titled “’Pints’ of wine stocked on Britain’s shelves for the first time ever” (emphasis added), making it clear that it is not the restoration of a pre-EU ‘freedom’ but a novelty. That press release title contains another implication, in its use of speech marks around the word ‘pints’, for, as the text of the release makes clear, what will be permitted are 568 ml bottles – in other words, a metric measure (the other new provisions are that both still and sparkling wine can be sold in 200 ml and 500 ml containers, whereas, currently, still wine cannot be sold in 200 ml and sparkling wine cannot be sold in 500 ml).

So, not only is this not a return to previous customs, it isn’t an end to even a single case of the use of metric measurements. It may well be that these 568 ml bottles – if they are ever produced, which I’ll return to – will also say on them ‘one imperial pint’, but this just opens the door to more myths.

Although the idea of champagne pints as a Brexit benefit has never been widespread – the Berry interview from August 2016, referenced above, is the first mention of it I can find – that of the restoration of imperial units of measurement has a much longer and deeper significance going back to the 2002 ‘Metric Martyrs’ prosecutions, to the extent that these are seen by some as the ultimate origin of Brexit. One myth in play here is that metrication was something imposed on the UK by the EU, whereas in fact it was a process which had begun long before joining, and the Metric Martyrs case arose within a confused mélange of EU and domestic law. A second myth is that metrication made it illegal to use imperial measures, whereas in fact it only prohibited the use of those measures alone, without also displaying their metric equivalent more prominently (it was for refusing to do this that the ‘Metric Martyrs’ were prosecuted and, in some cases, convicted). In this sense, the fact that 568 ml bottles of champagne will be permitted to also be marked as imperial pints represents no change at all.

The will of the people

Building on these myths, ever since the referendum the idea of restoring imperial units of measurement has regularly been dangled in front of leave voters, almost half of whom supported it according to a 2017 opinion poll*. It featured in Iain Duncan Smith’s TIGGR review in May 2021 and again in the government’s January 2022 ‘Benefits of Brexit’ report. Then, to coincide with the late Queen’s Platinum Jubilee, Boris Johnson announced that there would be a public consultation exercise on the matter, enthusiastically overseen by Jacob Rees-Mogg, holder of the now defunct post of Minister for Brexit Opportunities. It’s of note that even some of those who reacted to that announcement with enthusiasm were confused about what was at stake, with one market trader appearing to think it was to do with the use of decimal currency.

The consultation was launched in June 2022 and concluded in August 2022, and the results were supposed to have been announced in November 2022. However, little was then heard about it until now when, in fact, the substance of what was announced in the ‘pints of wine’ press release was the outcome of that consultation. It was presumably headlined in that way so as to distract attention from the embarrassment of what that outcome consisted of, and this probably also explains the obscure timing of the announcement. For, as anyone might have known without going to the wasted expense – the kind of waste which Rees-Mogg, who at the time was also the Minister for ‘government efficiency’, himself so often castigated – it reveals that the public regard the idea as a complete dud.

Thus, despite using a survey design widely criticized as flawed and  biased towards garnering support for the use of imperial units, of the over 100,000 responses to the consultation 98.7% were in favour of continuing to use metric measurements, whilst an utterly miserable 0.4% favoured returning to imperial units only. As a result, even this government has finally realized the game is up, and although the unteachable Rees-Mogg continues to moan (£) that this is an example of “government of the bureaucrat, by the bureaucrat, for the bureaucrat”, it is rather more obviously a case where ‘the will of the people’ is abundantly clear. Indeed, what would Rees-Mogg have the bureaucrats do? Impose imperial measures on a population almost unanimously opposed to them?

Others were more ebullient, none more than the ever-peculiar Mail columnist Peter Hitchens who rejoiced at this “blow against the metric commissars”, apparently not grasping that the only thing that has been achieved is to allow bottles of a distinctly metric 568 ml. In calling for an official pardon for the original Metric Martyr, Steve Thoburn, Hitchens also seems to have missed the fundamental point, that nothing about metrication has actually changed. Former Brexit Minister and ERG hardliner David Jones was equally easily gulled, welcoming the champagne pint but calling on the government to “go the whole hog and allow people the freedom to use imperial measures if they wish” as if the horse he is still flogging had not now been definitively pronounced as dead by this announcement.

Taking everything together, then, this is a dismally instructive story, enfolding generalized myths about the second world war and specific myths about champagne bottles, metrication, and the supposed outlawing of imperial units, stirred in with the faux-victimhood of martyrdom. Layered on this are the silly Brexit boosterism of Boris Johnson and the laboured antiquarianism of Jacob Rees-Mogg, all topped off with the disingenuity of the manner in which the whole stupid episode has finally been laid to rest. Even treated as no more than a symbol of Brexit, that makes it revealing. But there is more to it than that.

The power of size and the size of power

When Hollinrake was challenged on X-Twitter about his claim that wine pints would help businesses and economic growth he rowed back slightly, saying that “No-one is claiming this is some kind of economic game changer, just one of many incremental improvements across the business landscape that add up to £bns of benefits” and linking, presumably in support of this claim, an article from The Drinks Business, although, in fact, the article suggests that  champagne and sparkling wine producers have no plans to produce pint bottles.

That was published in February 2022, so it could be argued that the latest announcement will spur a change, but it is unlikely to be extensive. Non-UK producers have little incentive to take on the extra costs of producing pint bottles, since they will probably only be sellable in the UK (or, possibly, though I am not sure, only in Great Britain). It’s true that the UK is quite a large market – for champagne, specifically, it is the sixth largest importer by volume in the world, though, even within the EU, the Netherlands imports more – but it’s unlikely that it can be much expanded by a pint product. Perhaps some will think this worthwhile – Pol Roger, with the ‘Churchill’ association, might find it viable to produce a niche, super-premium product, and there may be others. Equally, some UK producers might create a pint product for the domestic market, though the early indications are that they will not.

In short, for the most part, wine producers in both the UK and elsewhere will continue to conform to the established global norm, including the US, of the 75cl (750 ml) bottle. It is worth reflecting on why this is the norm. Hitchens’ article actually touches on it when he notes that it is “because that is the size of bottle most people like. And — because we in Britain have always been such good customers for European wine — it is based on an old English wine measure, of roughly a pint and a third, known amusingly as . . . a 'Bottle'.” This explanation is partly based, as with some other examples in the article, on the idea that ye olde Englishe measurements are somehow ‘natural’, and so “what most people like”. But the more substantive point is the allusion to the historic importance of the British market.

Specifically, according to almost all sources, at a time when most wine was consumed in its country of origin, the main export market for French producers, especially those of Bordeaux, was Britain. The wine was shipped in barrels and, since the British measured in gallons and the French in litres, in the nineteenth century the practice emerged whereby barrels of 50 gallons or 225 litres were used, thus yielding 300 bottles of 75 cl each (clearly this is compatible with Hitchens’ account, as there are eight pints in a gallon, yielding six bottles of a pint and third, although I can find no other reference to such bottles being a traditional English measure). This 75 cl bottle size eventually became a European, and later a global, norm.

That was then, but this is now

So this is a story about the market power of Britain when it was the wealthiest country in the world and (probably) the biggest importer of wine. It could, effectively, set the standard even of a product it scarcely produced itself. This is no longer true, and, in endless different versions, that fact lies at the heart of almost everything which is happening to regulation in post-Brexit Britain. Britain has, in theory, ‘taken back control’ of the laws and regulations that govern it. In practice, it has virtually no power to do so without imposing exorbitant costs upon its already ailing economy. There may be the odd exception but generally, as Joel Reland of UK in a Changing Europe has explained, “non-divergence [from the EU] is the new consensus in British politics”.

That in itself might be enough to show the fatuity of Brexit. All that effort and expense, and the outcome is not just to stay aligned with the EU but to actually lose all control over its decisions. But the reality is worse than that. For if ‘staying aligned’ demolishes the central argument made for Brexit by its advocates, it still does relatively little to allay the costs of Brexit: Britain is aligned with single market rules, which is certainly less costly than diverging, but does not get most of the benefit of that in terms of single market membership.

What makes the single market function as such is not just shared standards but a shared system of registering, certifying, and enforcing those standards so as to remove the regulatory borders between the countries who are members of that market. Aligning standards is a necessary condition for accessing the single market, and avoids the costs of producing to dual standards, but it is not sufficient to enjoy the benefits of single market membership which entail what Michel Barnier frequently described as the EU’s “common ecosystem of rules, supervision and enforcement mechanisms”.

It is an issue which is about come to the fore again when the UK finally begins to implement full import controls on goods coming from the EU at the end of this month (unless there is a sixth delay in doing so). Why bother, if the standards are the same? Because it’s not just about the standards, it’s about the systems for ensuring and demonstrating those standards are met (it’s exactly the same issue, in reverse, which explains why the ‘Not for EU’ labelling now appearing in the UK doesn’t tell us anything about the standards to which the products so marked are made). Outside of the single market, that means border controls in some form, even if not literally ‘at the border’, which means costs and, potentially, delays.

Betwixt and between alignment and divergence

However (although, really, it is another aspect of the same basic issue) the situation of post-Brexit Britain is worse still than that of largely maintaining alignment with single market standards whilst not reaping the benefits of single market membership. What has actually been created is a situation of complete confusion because, whilst remaining largely aligned, the UK is no longer in lock-step with the EU (except for goods in Northern Ireland). It’s not just that in some relatively minor ways the UK has chosen to diverge from the EU, it is that EU regulations themselves are constantly changing, but with no UK commitment to track them (or to be bound by any disputes arising from them) or any process to do so, or even the state capacity to create such a process.

One consequence of this is that much of the burden of compliance falls on individual firms and their trade associations, which must try to keep abreast of EU changes and to comply with them. Because these changes are ongoing, it means that, as William Bain, Head of Trade Policy at the British Chambers of Commerce explained recently, it is a burden that is growing rather than being “a static mechanism” of one-off adjustment to Brexit. Stephen Phipson, CEO of MAKE UK, has a similar message: “we don’t have the regulatory capacity to keep up: it’s not intentional but we’re lagging behind”. That same report shows how the government does not even have a consistent or logical approach, so that, having dropped the general requirement on UK firms to adopt the UKCA mark rather than continuing to use CE, the construction sector is still supposed to do so by 2025. Perhaps, even probably, that, too, will end up being dropped but, for now, businesses in the sector are obliged to continue to prepare for it.

The same basic problem of having to align with the EU, for economic reasons, whilst having refused, for political reasons, to be in lockstep, is evident in the emerging situation with the EU Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism (CBAM) and the associated issue of the EU Emissions Trading System (ETS). It is a complicated story, but in very brief the UK is set to create its own CBAM on similar lines to that of the EU. The UK can’t just ignore the EU because, despite having left it is directly affected by what the EU does. In this case, for example, a consequence of ignoring EU CBAM might be to end up having high-carbon steel from China dumped on the UK market.

However because the UK is not in lockstep, UK CBAM will come into force later (creating a ‘window’ for dumping) and, as things stand, without linking the UK CBAM and ETS and EU CBAM and ETS. Such linkage is something which might, in fact, be achievable via the existing Trade and Cooperation Agreement, and it is probably something that the next government, especially if it is a Labour government, will do. But even if so, the point holds: extra costs, uncertainties and complexities are incurred to no conceivable benefit or advantage, and with an outcome which in substantive terms is defined by the EU rather than the UK.

Self-punishment

Compared with these things, the champagne pint announcement may seem trivial. It will most likely be almost entirely ignored. But it is illustrative of a far bigger issue. It arises from a wholly nonsensical and imaginary idea of sovereignty, itself predicated on a nineteenth century view of Britain and the world. This creates a self-punishment machine where we pay a massive price to have a freedom to diverge which in most cases is too costly to exercise, like someone spending a fortune on a new car and then finding that, as they had been warned, there are no roads to drive it on.

It is easy to get lost in the detailed weeds of all this, and also to be distracted by the endless gaslighting from Brexiters, but the reality is straightforward, and the public are all too well aware of it: there is nothing that Brexit makes easier, cheaper or more pleasant. And it’s going to get worse, not better.

 

*The survey question asked itself confuses the issue, since it asked whether “selling goods in pounds and ounces” should be “brought back”, as if doing so had been outlawed.

Update (05/01/24: 08.50): to add extra piquancy to the mythological nature of Churchill’s ‘pints of champagne’, I’ve been alerted by David Scott to a report that these bottles were in fact 600 ml, rather than a 568 ml pint, and very rarely produced.

Update (06/01/24: 11.30): In the post I state that I was not sure whether the pint bottles of wine and champagne would be sellable across the UK, or possibly only in Great Britain. I was implying, obviously, that I was not sure whether the Northern Ireland Protocol might mean that they would not be sellable in Northern Ireland. However, John Campbell, the BBC’s Northern Ireland Business and Economics Editor, has responded, clarifying that they would be sellable in Northern Ireland, and that they would be eligible to use the ‘green lane, under the Windsor Framework.


54 comments:

  1. great point about the evolutionary nature of the SM - few grasp this imo

    Slowly people will realise that the SM is not a "thing" but rather a framework (legal, technical & administrative), a methodology that continually strives to reduce socio-economic barriers between nation states via MR - it adapts to new technology, new ways of doing business & new ways of living

    and when members 100% of everything the UK produced - from an aircraft wing to a pot of homemade jam - if it was legal on the UK market it was legal across the EU SM

    now by default nothing is - zero nada zilch, everything the UK produces has to be certified.


    Brexit will be a continual damage limitation exercise.

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    1. My local bar in Paris sells me a pint in a glass etched with a pint measure and, 1cm below it, the 500ml line. The joke’s on the Brexiteers - Cheers mate!

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  2. Thanks for your continued work Chris

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  3. It is a myth that Steve Thoburn was prosecuted for not displaying metric measures. He was convicted of trading with non-certified scales.

    -A.

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    1. Yes, that's a good point, although some of the other 'metric martyrs' - Colin Hunt and John Dove - were prosecuted for not displaying metric measures (Dove was also prosecuted for using non-metric scales). But, you're right about Thoburn (and I was vaguely aware of it) so I should have phrased it better. Thanks for correcting me.

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    2. PS, there is a lot more interesting information about the Metric Martyrs cases on the UK Metric Association website, here: https://ukma.org.uk/press/articles/ssteven/

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    3. One of the saddest aspects of the Metric Martyrs case is that it is just one of way to many examples of neither media nor public fact checking governmental claims.

      The claim that the evil EU forced the disallowed imperial units was simply taken at face value when in fact it was the national government who wanted to force an unpopular change but didn't want to take the blame.

      In fairness this also happened in other EU countries but the UK government seems to have gone way overboard in how they decided to transpose EU regulations into national law.

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  4. Even just as layperson, not as wine-producer or seller, I do know that standardization often comes about from the market itself, because if "all" wine bottles are standard form, size and volume, it's both easier for the wine producer to get the machinery to fill the bottles from the cask, and cheaper to buy bottles because all bottle producers mass-produce the same size.

    So if one winery wants to sell 568 ml / 600 ml bottles, they need to find one specific producer who makes these bottles, instead of picking the cheapest option among several producers; they need to refigure their filling apparatus, they need to re-design their transport palettes, talk with their supermarkets on how to make place on the shelves.

    And all that for champagne, which is usually associated with elites - I thought Brexit was all about the common people, against the "urban elites"? Shouldn't the common (sun-reading) people prefer to drink British beer instead of foreign wine, or worse, fancy champagne?

    It's interesting to read about the origin of the 3/4 of liter bottle, (I didn't know that before) because I wondered not because of Brexit, but with different drinking habits, whether another size would be more useful. A 750 liter bottle is usually 3 glasses, so good if you invite a friend, but too much for a single person.
    In my country, cooking wine is sold in small bottles ca 250 ml because it would be wasteful to open a full bottle and leave it standing around, if you only need a small portion.
    A single person may want to drink only one or two glasses, but not all three of a normal bottle, so market research could find out if there is enough of a nice to sell "single-sized" bottles of decent/ good wine.
    Although on the other hand alcohol free wine (and beer) has been rising among the younger and middle-aged population, both for health reasons and with stricter limits on driving cars (from 0.8 to 0.5 to 0.0 promille of blood alcohol when driving), so maybe this is the new direction instead.

    Another point to consider: if in the future (I wish it happened already) to help conserve ressources, a deposit system is introduced for glass bottles - we used to have that for milk and sparkling water bottles, standard sizes of 1 l and 0.7 l: you paid the deposit when buying the milk, brought the empty bottle back and the supermarket sent the bottles to the dairy place, which washed and re-filled the bottles.

    Because it was cheaper to wash bottles than buy new bottles, and with a lot of small local dairies, beer brewers and mineral water wells, the transport weight of glass bottles (versus tetrapacks or single-use plastic) was still very good. Sadly, with higher deposits on single-use plastic and cheaper tetrapacks, this has gone down, but if environment is taken serious in the future, it could still happen.

    A few wineries here offer to take back used bottles, but it's not official.
    But with most wine bottles one standard size and shape, it would be easy to mandate it, so deviating first, then switching back would mean more costs.

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    1. With regards to the standard size wine bottle, I can see it will make bottles easier and cheaper to fill but doesn’t it also reduce costs for transportation and storage? If a lorry can ordinarily transport x cases of the standard size but less of the new “pint” sized cases, then that will have a negative effect on costs

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    2. As the only drinker in the house I buy wine online in half bottles, about right for a meal.

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  5. "the other new provisions are that both still and sparkling wine can be sold in 200 ml and 500 ml containers, whereas, currently, still wine cannot be sold in 200 ml and sparkling wine cannot be sold in 500 ml"

    I wonder if the old regime has been UK specific as well.

    I just returned from my weekly shopping here in Austria and I saw still and sparkling wine offered in 250ml bottles (and the standard 750ml ones)

    No 200ml or 500ml variants

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  6. Just a tangential point: the technical methods of producing wine (at least in France) are different between still wine and champagne. Still wine is fermented in vats and then bottled, but champagne undergoes a second fermentation in the bottle. Therefore the investment in producing champagne in pint/568ml bottles is much greater than for other wines (with even greater difference for non-French industrially produced wines). It is imaginable just to bottle red and white wines in a different-sized bottle. You are committed to a pint bottle at a much earlier stage in the champagne process, and re-bottling is not possible, if the sales are a failure.

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    1. All champagne is bottle fermented in either 75cl or 150cl bottles. Any other size bottles smaller or larger are filled from 150cl bottles after bottle fermentation..

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  7. It was a few years ago now, but I've bought "metric pints" in the EU. For example in some countries where English is widely spoken, such as Denmark, bars advertised pints of beer. Ordering one got me 500ml.

    Similarly, I guess, France defined a metric pound (livre métrique) of 500g back in 1812, following French metrication. It's still in use.

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    1. Well, I'm really happy that our British cousins can now buy "pints"; may it do them good!

      Here, in France, we have been able to buy "pintes" for well, a long time and, it seems to me, more so since Brexit. A Brexit benefit?

      But shock, horror, a "pinte" = 50cl! Well I never...

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    2. It's the same in the Netherlands; the pound and and ounce are alive and kicking (being 500g and 100g respectively). After all, the words are useful and very old. we've been metric over 200 years and I guess there must have been some confusion at the changeover but that's long since forgotten.

      Though interestingly, when introduced it was the "Dutch metric system" where a "pond" was defined as 1kg. That part evidently never caught on, because we use it for 500g exclusively now.

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    3. In fully metric Australia British and Irish beers can be bought at the bar in pints.

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    4. In Germany, the Pfund (Pound) has been defined as 500 g, because people are used to buying a pound of veggies, or half a pound -250 g - of butter because it's a useful size, but switching back to pre-metric would be stupid.

      For drinks, beer is usually bought in restaurants as a Mass (measure) which is one liter, or half - half a liter.

      Soft drinks = non-alcoholic are not legally proscribed at all, but common is small size = 200 to 250 ml, and big size, which goes from only 300 ml to 400 for standard, to full 500 ml, depending on how generous the restaurant is.

      There is a law that any place that serves alcohol has to have at least one non-alcoholic drink on the menu that's the same or cheaper price as a beer/ alcoholic drink, to reduce drunk driving, but otherwise, sizes in which drinks are sold in restaurants are not regulated.

      There is a commission of weights and measures that checks that the glasses are normed, and that if you order 400 ml, you get 400ml, but that's a different aspect again.

      In supermarkets, beer is traditional in 330 ml bottle (reusable), though US influences mean that sometimes, small kegs are sold for mass-drinking. But that's an exception. (Good beer is not guzzled, it's enjoyed. Getting "pissed" drunk is no longer a thing to brag about, more a lower-class loser thing.)

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  8. With the news that UKCA is after all to be imposed on the construction industry, I am wondering whether the edifice could be toppled with a little bit of push back from suppliers. Suppose they all refused to recertify - the Guardian reported that they have to reconduct the self same tests which they did, documented and recorded for the CE mark to get the UKCA mark. Suppose they all refused to supply anything other than CE marking? OK, everyone would then have to order their building supplies from a builders merchant in Calais. But is the government strong enough to hold the line at the tail end of their term?

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    1. Münchner Kindl7 April 2024 at 06:03

      You mean: martyrers against UKCA, for EU alignance? ;-)

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  9. Happy New Year. I was astonished to learn that pint bottles of champagne were ever a thing -- albeit 600ml. I thought Churchill measured his champagne as fractions of the volume of a Pullman carriage -- in one of his biographies I (think) I read he estimated how many carriages his lifetime intake of champagne would fill. I wonder if the calculation was done in Imperial units.

    It all smacks of "let them eat cake." What fraction of people in the UK can afford champagne let alone a mortgage payment -- ask NatWest? What it will amount to -- in the unlikely event it happens -- is you'll get ca. 2/3 of a bottle of wine for the old price (or more) for 750 cl.

    I live in the US where weight units are pounds and ounces. On a visit to the UK some time ago I asked for half a pound of cheese. The woman eyed me up as if I was a dinosaur. I'd left the UK before it went metric and had forgotten. Imagine having to teach a new generation Imperial units. Chaos.

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    1. What’s even more confusing is US fluid oz vs Imperial fluid oz. A US pint is 473ml also strangely used in canada. Called tall boys when in cans.

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  10. You must have very big vino glasses in your house ! There are 5 -6 standard measures in a 750ml bottle

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  11. Standardised quantities like 750ml for wine are mainly a consumer protection function. They provide greater price transparency as consumers can easily compare like for like. They used to be common for a wide range of basic products, but most have been replaced by a requirement to display unit prices (price per 100g etc.). On another tack, I suspect that pint bottles of champagne will be gifted to ‘friends’ as a signal that the gifter does not like them that much.

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    1. Yes, that was interesting in one of the linked articles given as reason by the government to standardize drink sizes by law at all, instead of simply letting the market decide.

      Though I wonder if customers would not be able equally well to get comparison from clear labels on the bottle: one glass (250 ml) of this drink contains x g of alcohol, and after 3 glasses you have reached 0.8 promille if you weigh 70 kg.

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  12. I’m most in awe of the 17% of survey respondents who wrote in demanding metrication everywhere -road signs, draft beer etc. there is clearly a cadre of “hard metric” activists out there -surprised the DM didn’t pick up on that as the reason the survey didn’t generate the results that they and JRM had hoped for. Also: I can but wonder how JRM would have actually responded if he was still minister. Probably ignored it and demanded that UK metres are to be officially smaller than metric ones, so destroying compatibility with the rest of the world

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    1. Though even without them the results would still have been pretty overwhelming

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    2. I suppose you could call me "hard metric" in that case, although what I really mean is SI units, which are the global standard for the sciences. However, in a country where most people don't even know that the unit of force is the Newton, I suspect the distinction will be lost.

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  13. Thank you, Chris for this and all previous blogs - I've been reading them since 2016. And while the blogs mostly leave me sad and/or angry, they help cut through the inane bravado of government and the nonsensical claims of Brexit benefits and opportunities. Keep up the good work in 2024! Cal T
    PS And I totally agree about the unlikelihood of producers and retailers switching to 568ml bottles of wine. As you always make clear, there are serious costs to divergence across all sectors, exacerbated by uncertainty and confusion about what future systems will be implemented.

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  14. If Brits want to sell wine in pint bottles then,more likely than not, they will have to manufacture the bottles themselves and sterilise and cork them.

    Whichever country supplies the wine it will only do so in large sealed tankers. Believe it or not the wine won’t be of great quality !

    I do sometimes buy wine in 3 or 5 litre boxes as I am an Eu citizen .
    The price can sometimes be as low as 3 euros per litre but I often pay 5 euros per litre to get wine which is at least drinkable.

    If I am in a cafe here and want a beer a 50 cl glass will often be referred to as “un pinte “. This misdescription causes no problems or benefits. I can even buy in supermarkets half decent 50cl cans of beer from Eastern Europe for75 to 95 centimes.

    Perhaps these points highlight the stupidity of the arguments being discussed .
    .









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    1. One of the very good reasons to read this blog is how exhaustive the analysis of the brexit people whinging is and with it we can find some understanding to their hate filled world.
      Regarding drinks volumes, my opinion is that the pint is not a very good measurement but acceptable for beer although it tends to promote heavy drinking. It will work very well for ales that are not very fizzy and have virtually no change during consumption but a lager will become stale and if in hot weather then it just becomes "piss".
      For wine it would be a great quantity for a meal for two and it is widely used as a 500 ml jug where I'm from, there's also half bottles of 375 ml, but in Britain the restaurant use is a bit more ceremonial and the pint of wine will probably only do for one and maybe that's not very practical or healthy. There might be some case for it but it would appeal to moderation I guess and that's not very brexit is it?
      Regarding champagne it sounds impossible as the already mentioned second fermentation in bottle and all the logistics with it.
      As the English now produce wine and sparkling maybe they can start selling their pints to the world!

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  15. Thank you very much, Chris, for another brilliant article. Of course the champagne story is a dead cat of the worst kind, and was run to conceal the government’s embarrassment over a humiliating outcome to the so-called consultation. As you know, members of the public were asked only whether they would prefer imperial units with a less prominent metric equivalent, or imperial units only. Other preferences had to be written in. In the circumstances it is all the more remarkable that the outcome was diametrically opposite to what the government was hoping for.

    Strikingly, the BBC news website published a story on the morning of the announcement, which gave the facts, and this was replaced within hours by another which reported almost exclusively the pint of champagne. What does this tell us about the BBC?

    Frankly, it would be much healthier to emulate Churchill’s more positive traits, e.g. his belief in European unity, than his drinking habits, which today, and perhaps even at the time, would be considered extremely unhealthy.

    I should add that the notion of imperial measures being one of Britain’s ‘ancient freedoms’ is nonsense at many levels. First of all they were agreed only in 1824, 38 years before parliament first discussed metrication. Secondly, they are not British, as the name Avoirdupois should make clear. Thirdly, metric units are a British invention, having been first proposed by the Rev John Wilkins in 1668.

    Most people under 60 have been taught only metric units at school, and yet there continues to be massive misinformation about weights and measures. Our mission in the UK Metric Association is to try to cast light on the matter. Readers can learn more and can join our association by visiting our website Ukma.org.uk. I could also point you towards our publication metricviews.uk, which has discussed this issue in some detail, and to a recent article https://westenglandbylines.co.uk/business/metric-is-here-to-stay/

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  16. I remember, long ago, when wood was 'metricated'. The local wood yard started pricing wood by the metre but to make things easy for customers also priced it by the 'metric unit' which was 30.48cm. If a customer wanted four feet they cut off 4 'metric units' to sell them and everybody was happy. There never seemed to be any legal issue with this and I think they continued till nobody was asking for wood by the foot anymore.

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    1. Wood is still in metric sizes as a lot of it comes from Canada which sells it to the US in feet

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  17. I have lived in France for the last twenty years, and can assure you that you have fallen for another of Peter Hitchens ill-founded opinions, presented as fact. We all recognise who won in the cerebral gene pool with his brother, Christopher!
    We can be certain that there was no "old English wine measure . . known as a 'bottle'"; and nor were we Brits "good customers of European wine".
    The word comes from the French 'bouteille' - impossible for the English to pronounce correctly. Derivations of this word are widely used throughout continental countries.
    Hitchens is also plainly incorrect in claiming that Brits were good customers of 'European wine'. Exports of all sorts from 'European' countries travelled by river and seagoing boats - and the winemakers and sea-captains of Bordeaux were the ones who capitalised on the opportunity provided by the then British government to tax gin drinking out of the public domain. Tax-free 'clairet' (also mis-pronounced as 'claret') became The People's choice.

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    1. Well, I'm not sure why you say I have 'fallen for it', as I state that I can find no source confirming Hitchens' claim. But what there is evidence for, and I link to some of the many sources of it, is that the volume of trade from Britain for French wine explains barrel sizes, which in turn led to the 75 cl bottle standard.

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  18. Thanks Chris for this and best wishes for 2024.
    The underlying sentiment pushing for pints and other Imperial measures is purely nationalistic in my opinion.

    I recently came across an example when I was ordering new foam cushions for my mother’s lounge furniture. The only supplier in NI is a large manufacturer and wholesaler in Dunmurry a small but Uber-Ulster Unionist town near Belfast.

    They only deal with trade but private buyers can order cut to measure foam online (there are many varieties) and must input the dimensions (height, width, length) as each is cut to order.

    Four years ago when I ordered the dimensions could be in either cm or inches but now (Sept last year) only inches are allowed.
    I queried this on the phone and was informed that the company now only works in imperial measures.
    Given that any business in Dunmurry is overtly Unionist ( the whole town is a forest of Union Jack’s atop every pole), I have no doubt the owners are DUP backers and doing their bit to try and undermine the NIP/Windsor Framework and the use of imperial measures Is a political statement.

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  19. As a P.S. to my message, Chris - as I recall it, the size of a 'bottle' has nothing to do with centilitres, pints, or any other liquid measure - glass containers long predate such concepts. The size was determined as the space that the glassblower could produce to provide a uniform shape & volume in one normal lung-full. Very practical!

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    1. According to most of the sources I have found, the 'lung capacity of the glassblower' explanation is also a myth. See e.g. https://bernard-magrez.com/en/actualites/why-a-wine-bottle-measures-75cl/

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  20. Shall I join the growing list of people misled?
    It seems the early wine (sparkling) bottles were pintes.... just not even close to a half litre..... https://bouteillesanciennes.net/2014/12/13/ces-curieuses-bouteille-dun-litre-odd-french-litre-bottles/
    ... and some history.... https://ehne.fr/en/encyclopedia/themes/material-civilization/material-modernityies-europe-in-expansion/second-birth-bottle-18th-century.... maybe.... if it's true..
    David.

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    1. The second link specifies the size of a pint(e) as 0.93l, slightly more than 1.5 imperial pints.
      This would have been the size of a pinte in Paris at the time, but the size of the pinte varied from place to place in France, with 1.46l, 1.99l, and 3.33l as examples.

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  21. A tiny quibble. I don't think "high carbon steel" is what you seem to think it is. Carbon is component of the alloy which is steel, so high carbon steel is a steel which has a high proportion of carbon in it. I think what you mean is "steel whose production process emits a lot of carbon dioxide".

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    1. Well this is exactly the point (and it is also why a hyphenated 'high-carbon', which, you're right, is shorthand, but much less clumsy, and I'd though it would be understood as such, though I can see the ambiguity now that you mention it). CBAM is a way of charging for the amount of emissions within an imported product (not only steel, of course) - hence the 'E' of ETS.

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    2. I must admit that when I read it, I assumed it to be a particularly hard but brittle type of steel, of which China may have excess production.

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  22. There is a layer of Brexitism that is anti-Jacobin and anti-Napoleonic: the Metric Martyrs as the successors to the Scarlet Pimpernel and Horatio Hornblower. We can see it in the Brexiters' opposition to the European Court of Human Rights, which is in the Enlightenment mould of la déclaration des droits de l'homme et du citoyen of 1789. Mere humans may need rights, but the British do not, as we have the Common Law, Magna Carta, Judges in ancien régime wigs &c. &c. (try telling that to Catholics in Northern Ireland though...) Perhaps, too, the Brexit lie - often implied rather than stated outright - that being in the EU somehow prevented us from trading with the rest of the world appealed to folk memories or schoolboy history of Napoleon's Continental System.

    I think it's a fogeyish Spectator/Telegraph thing, though, with little popular resonance (unlike the endless loop of World War 1 & 2 resentment...)

    A J Paxton

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  23. The origin to 75 cl is that this is the nearest metric size to one sixth of an imperial gallon or 26 and two third fluid ounces.

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  24. Of course the Champagne and other wines you mentionned were all produced in Britain weren't they?

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  25. Another element is that any wine sold in pints could never be sold in the EU. Ditto the new 200 and 500 ml sizes for particular wines. There is an EU Directive 2007/45 which fixes the sizes that have to be used for sale of, among others wines and spirits. Scotch Whisky producers led the charge in the early 2000s when the Commission wanted to deregulate all bottle sizes and succeeded in retaining fixed sizes for spirits and wine. There is a lengthy explanation as to why this was so important but in essence it was to do with consumer protection, fair trade and the environment. Free sizes would have been a disaster, especially in the UK with its unique combination of high excise tax and powerful supermarkets.

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  26. Hi Chris. Great piece, as ever. One of the additional elements is that, were any traders so minded, they could not sell their pints of wine in the EU or, presumably, N Ireland. There is an EU Directive 2007/45 which fixes the sizes in which wines and spirits can be sold. The pint is not included. And nor are the 200 and 500ml sizes for the specific wines in the new UK law so they couldn't be sold in the EU/NI either. There is a long history to this issue: for my sins, I led the campaign in the early 2000s to retain fixed bottle sizes when the Commission was trying to dergulate them. The advantages of fixed sizes are related to consumer protection, far trade and environmental benefit. Free sizes would have been a disaster in the Uk particularly with its mix of high excise tax and powerful supermarkets. Anyway, the point is that, I suspect, any pints are going to be seriously niche because of the costs of creating a bespoke new size rather that enjoying the economies of scale from using established sizes.

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  27. I take it that Brexiters will start drinking wine from beer mugs.

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  28. I follow this blog avidly as it is a small oasis of reason in the sea of Brexit driven desert. However sometimes it really depresses me as it highlights the insanity of the whole concept juxtaposed by the wilful lies of the Brexiters and their media clown supporters. I do worry ( even at 68 yrs old) that the country will recover from such a massive act of lies and denial. What a future our children have to face.

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  29. Another wonderful essay, Chris, thank you.

    It did make me wonder… why are bottle sizes regulated by law?

    Yes, of course consumers should be correctly informed of the volume they are buying and, for international trade and people's expressed preference, this should be done in SI units(as well, if sellers wish, in other units, as long as they don't confuse customers).

    Whyever should laws state that "sparkling wine can be sold in 200 ml and 500 ml containers, whereas, currently, still wine cannot be sold in 200 ml and sparkling wine cannot be sold in 500 ml"? Why can the market not decide this?

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    1. From what I know of Winston Churchill, I could imagine him drinking his champagne by the pint...
      Yet another excellent piece debunking more of the nonsense Brexiters still seem able to produce ad nauseam. I find it telling that of the few extremely modest achievements they seize upon to make a fuss about most of them seem to centre around alcohol. I've just read Peter Foster's What Went Wrong with Brexit, and I suspect a certain amount of inebriation will be needed to make the slow decline through atrophying relationships and trust he predicts more bearable.

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  30. From what I know of Winston Churchill, he probably drank his champagne in pints...
    Another excellent piece debunking the ever more desperate claims of Brexit benefits being made by people who should know better. It is perhaps symptomatic that most of them revolve around alcohol. I have just read Peter Foster's What Went Wrong with Brexit, and if the atrophying of relatonships and trust between Britain and the EU he predicts is allowed to happen, leave Britain an impoverished backwater, the British are going to need something to deaden the pain a little.

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