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Has Brexit changed duty-free wine rules? ask Decanter

Britons will have to keep count when wedging wine into their cars on the way back from France, but the UK government also says new international allowances are 'generous' and Brexit has expanded duty-free shopping options.

Travel is off the agenda for most people right now, but 1 January 2021 still marked the beginning of new duty-free rules for the UK following Brexit.

That said, Northern Ireland continues to apply EU customs policies at ports.

You can enter Great Britain (England, Wales, Scotland) with a ‘personal allowance’ of up to 18 litres of still wine without paying duty or tax, according to the UK government. That’s equivalent to 24 bottles.

You can also bring in 42 litres of beer. Plus, in a third category, you can have either:

  • Four litres of spirits and other liquors above 22% abv.
  • Nine litres of sparkling wine (12 bottles), fortified wine and alcoholic drinks up to 22% abv.

You don’t necessarily have to choose between your love of Port or Cognac. The government says you can split the allowances in this third category, such as by using 50% each of your spirits and fortified wine limits.

The new limits above apply to all international travel to Great Britain, and the government said its new scheme has ‘one of the most generous allowances anywhere in the world’. See the rules here.

What now for the cross-Channel booze cruise?

There was previously no official limit to bringing wine into the UK from another EU state. Buyers could take advantage of lower wine prices in France and no additional UK duty or tax was charged at the border, as long as the bottles were for private consumption.

Anyone arriving with more than 90 litres (120 bottles) crammed into their car boot might face questions, according to a UK parliamentary paper published last year.

This policy stemmed from the birth of the EU single market in 1993, and day-trippers to France have at various times piled the cases high for weddings and parties back home.

Things will change for the booze cruise, yet it’s early days. ‘I think there’s still life left in it,’ said Guy Boursot, founder of Boursot Vins in Ardres not far from Calais.

‘It has changed focus many times, and now it will be something else.’ It’s a good day out for one thing, he said, adding that it was never just about price. ‘Most of our wines are unique to us and not found in the UK.’

Boursot, who has a lot of experience in the trade and worked for 17 years at Berry Bros & Rudd, also said he was looking at ways to adapt his business.

However, he expressed frustration at a lack of information and clarity from authorities, particularly regarding post-Brexit rules and paperwork for delivery orders from UK-based customers.

When sending wines for delivery, ‘we are being asked for new forms every day’, he said.

Duty-free shopping

Another new development is that duty-free shopping is again available for people going from Great Britain to the EU.

You can enter the EU with up to four litres of still wine without needing to pay duty or tax, as long as you don’t plan to sell the bottles, say the rules.

On top of that you could have one litre of spirits (above 22% abv) or two litres of fortified or sparkling wines. Once again, you can split this last category.

This may lead to new deals for travellers at UK airports, train stations or aboard ferries.

The return of duty-free shopping when departing Britain for the EU offers some opportunities, said Julie Lassaigne, secretary general of the European Travel Retail Confederation (ETRC).

In particular, she told Decanter that it might provide scope for offers on premium drinks, or releases that are exclusive to the travel retail sector.

However, she also warned that retailers faced ‘a lot of additional complexity’ to comply with Brexit trade rules. And fewer travellers due to Covid-19 have also made it a challenging period for the travel retail sector in general.


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Wine buyer’s guide to Calais – Is a booze cruise still worth it? (2019)

Tax on wine: What do you pay in the UK? 

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