EU warning on minimum drink pricing
David Cameron has been warned that proposals to set a minimum price for alcohol in England and Wales are illegal under European law.
The minimum price plan will mean that wine cannot be sold for less than about £4.20 a bottle, beer cannot be sold for less than about 90p a can and a bottle of gin will cost at least £11.70. Photo: ALAMY
By Robert Winnett
8:52PM GMT 28 Nov 2012
The European Commission has sent a nine-page legal opinion to the British Government warning that minimum prices are illegal – and that the Treasury should increase duty on alcoholic drinks if it wishes to raise the price.
However, ministers appear to have decided to defy the legal warning and yesterday unveiled proposals to introduce a 45p minimum price for each unit of alcohol.
Supermarket deals offering shoppers “two for one deals” and similar discounts will also be outlawed.
The minimum price plan will mean that wine cannot be sold for less than about £4.20 a bottle, beer cannot be sold for less than about 90p a can and a bottle of gin will cost at least £11.70.
However, The Daily Telegraph has seen a leaked note sent to the British Government in response to Scottish plans to set a minimum price of alcohol.
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Scotland is planning a minimum price of 50p per unit.
The legal opinion states that setting a minimum price is illegal under laws governing the free movement of goods.
Thirteen European countries, including major wine producers such as France and Italy, are understood to be preparing to take the British government to court to stop the imposition of a minimum price.
Yesterday Damian Green, the Home Office minister, said the “evidence is clear” that cheap alcohol was leading to harmful levels of drinking.
The Government estimates that “irresponsible drinking” costs the taxpayer £21 billion a year as there are almost one million alcohol-related violent crimes annually and 1.2 million alcohol-related hospital admissions.
“It can’t be right that it is possible to purchase a can of beer for as little as 20p,” Mr Green said. “Too many of us have seen city centres on a Friday and Saturday night often become a vision of hell.
"A lot of this is fuelled by very cheap, very strong alcohol.
“The point of having a minimum unit price rather than, say, increasing taxation, is that you can target the shops that do deliberately sell very strong drink very cheaply.”
The Government believes a 45p minimum price will reduce alcohol consumption by 3.3 per cent, cutting the number of crimes by 5,000 per year and hospital admissions by 24,000 per year.
There will be 700 fewer alcohol-linked deaths annually, according to the predictions.
The department’s impact assessment suggests moderate drinkers will spend an extra £7 per year as a result of the plans, while harmful drinkers – defined as more than 50 units per week for men and 35 for women – would have to spend an extra £118 to continue with their current levels of alcohol consumption.
However, there is understood to be deep unease within the Cabinet over the plans for a minimum price, which have been championed by David Cameron.
Last night, senior figures in the alcohol industry also said that the measure would have little impact and would penalise millions of ordinary Britons.
Miles Beale, chief executive of the Wine and Spirit Trade Association, said: “It is hard to understand why the Government is pushing ahead with the consultation now, when there is a wall of opposition in Europe, a legal challenge in Scotland, a lack of any real evidence to support minimum unit pricing, opposition from consumers and concerns raised from within Cabinet itself.”
Another example of how the EU is taking away Sovereignty of Countries, Britain has a bad record for alcoholism and under age drinking so it makes sense to try to so something about it.
"The Government estimates that “irresponsible drinking” costs the taxpayer £21 billion a year as there are almost one million alcohol-related violent crimes annually and 1.2 million alcohol-related hospital admissions."
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