Nicola Sturgeon’s plan to fix a minimum price for alcohol has suffered a huge blow after the European court’s top lawyer ruled it would risk infringing EU law on free trade.
In a formal opinion on Sturgeon’s flagship policy, the advocate general to the European court of justice, Yves Bot, has said fixing a legal price for all alcoholic drinks could only be justified to protect public health if no other mechanism, such as tax increases, could be found.
Bot’s opinion is expected to mean a final defeat for the Scottish government’s efforts to be the first in Europe to introduce minimum pricing – supported by leading figures in the medical profession and the police, after several years of legal battles.
It is highly likely the ECJ in Luxembourg will now uphold complaints from the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) and nine other member states, including France, Spain and Bulgaria, because its judgments rarely contradict an opinion from the advocate general.And there is more good news for those of us who partake of the demon liquor:
Teetotallers should raise a glass of sparkling water to Britain’s drinkers, who are subsidising the Treasury to the tune of £6.5bn a year according to a think tank.Revenues from alcohol taxes amount to over £10bn, according to official figures crunched by the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA). The contribution of drinkers to the state compares with costs of just under £4bn which are borne by the NHS and criminal justice and welfare systems. The figure is over seven per cent of the government’s budget deficit for the 12 months ending March 2015.