Did the EU ban the crown symbol on pint glasses? Government’s imperial measures plan explained

British pint glasses will once again display Crown stamps under new plans - but were they actually banned by the EU?

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To acknowledge the Platinum Jubilee 2022, the Government has announced that it will “return the Crown symbol to pint glasses”.

Historically, pint glasses made in Britain were designed with a small Crown symbol.

But what did the Crown stamp mean, did the EU make it illegal as has been claimed, and what are the plans around imperial measures?

A group of men enjoying a pint at the local in 1963 (Reg Lancaster/Express/Getty Images)A group of men enjoying a pint at the local in 1963 (Reg Lancaster/Express/Getty Images)
A group of men enjoying a pint at the local in 1963 (Reg Lancaster/Express/Getty Images)

What has the Government said?

After weeks of speculation, the Government has formally launched its plan to restore the Crown symbol on pint glasses and allow businesses to sell products in pounds and ounces.

The Government statement says: “Post-Brexit plans to return the Crown symbol to pint glasses and to remove the EU ban on imperial measures have been set out today.

“In a tribute to Her Majesty The Queen’s Platinum Jubilee, new government guidance published today will help businesses apply the Crown symbol to pint glasses.”

It continues: “As long ago as 1698, British pint glasses intended for measuring and serving beer were marked with a crown stamp as a declaration that the glass, when filled to the brim or to a line measure, accurately measured a pint of beer.

“The Crown stamp gave customers confidence that they were not being sold a short measure of beer. But the symbol was replaced by the EU-wide ‘CE’ marking’ in 2006 in order to conform with EU rules in the UK.”

What did the crown symbol mean?

The crown symbol was intended to demonstrate that consumers could trust that the glass accurately measured a pint, and they weren’t being short-changed.

In 2006, the crown symbol was largely abandoned by British manufacturers.

Was the crown symbol banned by the EU?

There have been reports that the European Union ordered the crown symbol to be removed from British pint glasses.

On 29 May, the Mail on Sunday ran a front page headline claiming: “18 years after the EU ordered us to remove Crown symbol from our pint glasses, Boris Johnson brings them back for Jubilee”.

However, this is stretching the truth.

Although the EU introduced their own CE stamp with a similar meaning, and there was an expectation that pint glasses would display this CE stamp, there was no rule that the crown stamp would have to be removed.

CE stands for Conformité Européenne, which translates from French to “European Conformity”. A 2004 directive, which applied from 2006, required that any measuring implement (including pint glasses) needed this CE mark to indicate it held to universal EU standards.

Article 7 section 3 allows for this, reading “any other marking may be affixed on a measuring instrument, provided that the visibility and legibility of the ‘CE’ marking and the supplementary metrology marking is not thereby reduced.”

Boris Johnson’s description of restoring the pint glass as “cutting back on EU red tape and bureaucracy and restoring common sense to our rulebook” is, therefore, something of a misrepresentation of the relevant EU directive.

An EU spokesperson told the BBC that "EU law does not prevent markings from being placed on products, so long as it does not overlap or be confused with the CE mark."

Is the Government bringing back imperial measures?

This announcement came alongside a similarly nostalgic promise to bring back imperial measures.

The Government has published a consultation on how best to reintegrate imperial measures, which they have said will help “to legislate to give businesses greater choice in the units they use”.

The consultation, which will run for 12 weeks, “will help the government consider, for example, allowing vegetables to be sold in pounds only, or in pounds with a less prominent metric equivalent, should businesses wish to do so”.

The statement adds: “There is no intention to require businesses to change their existing practices and so this will not place greater costs on businesses.”

Business minister Paul Scully said: “While we think of our fruit and veg by the pound, the legacy of EU rules means we legally have to sell them by the kilo.”

Mr Scully, born in 1968, is 54 years old. The metric system was introduced in the UK in 1965, eight years before the UK joined the European Economic Community (the precursor to the EU) in 1973.