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Under current British law (almost unchanged since the time of Edward I) if a foreign goldsmith wants to sell gold, silver and platinum in Britain, the importer has to send it to a British assay office. Supporters of a European-standard hallmark, who argue that the ancient system acts as a barrier to free trade, were pushed by Italy who as holder of the presidency of the Council of Europe set the agenda for EU legislation.

However Ireland takes over the presidency next month, and is expected to shelve a directive (first proposed in 1994) that has failed twice.

The cross-party campaign of MEPs and leading industry figures who convinced nine member states to back the British position are now suggesting that UK-style hallmarking should become compulsory across the European Union.