In among some of the lesser-spotted arguments in the UK for leaving the EU comes a curious report from the UK-based Social Market Foundation entitled ‘Pour Decisions’.
Essentially, the Foundation argues that pubs should be allowed claim back a proportion of alcohol excise duty through “Pub Relief”.
“This would ensure that alcohol taxation is focused most heavily on the cheap booze sold in supermarkets and off-licences,” it claims with the battlecry “Let’s reform alcohol tax to save lives”.
Pub Relief, it seems, would allow pubs, bars and restaurants to claim back some of the alcohol duty costs that they currently face.
“Much as we know that heavy drinkers tend to consume strong drinks, we also know that they are more likely to consume alcohol at home or on the street rather than in the pub,” runs the SMF argument, “A Pub Relief would help ensure that we are not over-penalising low-risk drinkers.”
Just how this would work at the drinking end SMF leaves unexplained.
However such Pub Relief could only be possible “outside of European regulations”.
Current EU regulations make it difficult to tax stronger wines and ciders more heavily than weaker ones and such regulations do not allow tax to vary according to where a drink is sold.
“If Brexit finally happens” pushes on the Social Market Foundation, “politicians will be desperate to show the benefits of being unshackled from EU rules. Using Brexit to tackle the UK’s drink problem wouldn’t be a bad place to start.
“Done right” it argues, “we can reform alcohol duty to remove ‘worst offender’ products from supermarket shelves, and ensure that tax is focused on heavy, high-risk drinkers rather than responsible, low-risk drinkers.”
The report argues for the introduction of an “alcohol duty strength escalator” which levies a higher rate of tax on strong drinks.
“The evidence is clear; heavy drinkers tend to consume stronger products, such as spirits and high-strength beers and ciders. Increasing the tax on these products would not only discourage their consumption but would encourage drinks manufacturers to reduce the strength of the products in the first place.”
Not sure here just how the Scotch industry, spirits aficionados and the vast majority of moderate drinkers would feel about these suggestions, nor of the presumed reaction of wine drinkers.
What a curious document!
Like ourselves, the UK is not a low tax economy when it comes to alcohol.
So, as in this country – the second-highest taxed in Europe for alcohol – it would seem that high excise taxes have failed to reduce problem drinking.
Just where the SMF’s argument is going seems lost in a welter of pro-Brexit guff.