Our series of articles on Brexit concludes with speculation on the future for the UK and its measurement muddle.
Fog surrounds Brexit. The position will only become clearer when both sides set out their negotiating positions. However it is clear is that autarchy is out. The new Foreign Secretary has been at pains to say that we will remain part of Europe though outside the EU. Even politicians who want as little to do with the EU as possible after Brexit, say the UK will need to develop new trading relationships around the world, in particular with developing nations like India and China. So forget North Korea Mark 2.
Equally, we will not be going back to 1941. There will be no meeting between President and PM on a battleship off Newfoundland, looking at issues of common interest including the situation in Europe. Obama has already made that clear.
Currently around half of the UK’s trade is with the EU. Post Brexit, there is a range of options for maintaining this lifeline. At one extreme, there is membership of the European Economic Area (EEA) also known as the “Norway option”. This involves:
* membership of a free trade area which includes all EU countries, plus Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway;
* free movement of goods, services and labour within the EEA;
* payment of a subscription to the EU (Norway is the EU’s tenth largest contributor though not a member); and
* little influence on the formulation of EU law and regulations.
At the other extreme is the use of World Trade Organisation rules, with no formal relationship with the EU. For both options and for every one in between, there is no escape from the need for the UK to have industries capable of producing metric goods and served by a workforce familiar with metric measures. There is little demand around the world for pound–inch products, unless you are a giant company, like Boeing or Lockheed, with a near-monopoly market position. Needless to say, there are not many of those in the UK.
Manufacturing has shrunk as a proportion of the UK economy from around a third immediately post WW2 to around a tenth today, its place being taken by services such as banking, insurance, IT and tourism which rely less on an international measurement system. But even fervent Brexiteers admit that exporting of manufactured goods will remain just as important in the future. Add to this the fact that science, technology, engineering, construction, medicine, health, sport and many other parts of the UK economy are entirely metric, together with the supermarkets which supply around 90% of our groceries, and the scope for a return to Imperial measures seems limited.
In most other Commonwealth countries, there has been no EU to blame for ‘difficult’ aspects of the metric changeover. Governments saw it as their duty to explain and persuade. Their adoption of metric measures appeared to go more smoothly than in the UK and many have now completed the process. Perhaps the UK Government will learn lessons from them, for the current measurement muddle benefits only our competitors?
Now we offshore islanders can enjoy a period of reflection, and only then decide where our future lies. If eventually the UK, or what remains of it, concludes its future should continue to be linked to the EU, one hopes that there will be a greater commitment second time round to making the relationship succeed. But if we decide to strike out on our own, then is it too much to expect there to be an objective examination of the case for completing the adoption of a single simple measurement system, as has happened so often elsewhere in the world?