The UK Treasury has condemned EU plans to relax rules over buying alcohol abroad and bringing it into the UK.
The Treasury said the proposals – to allow Britons to carry as much alcohol as they like into the UK – would cripple the economy.
Importantly, the proposals also allow shoppers to buy alcohol online, and still pay continental rates.
A spokesman for the Government department said European commissioner’s Frits Bolkestein’s plans were ‘cynical’ and made no sense.
‘What Brussels is proposing is tax harmonisation under the cynical guise of a better deal for drinkers.’
But the reality would mean British bottle shops driven out of business and millions of pounds in tax lost, which would normally go to schools, hospitals and public services, he said.
Under current EU rules overseas shoppers are allowed to bring in as much alcohol as they want as long as it is for private consumption.
But HM Customs and Excise, which polices ports, uses the rule of thumb that 110 litres of beer and 90 litres of wine – about as much as will fit in the back of a Volvo estate, they calculate – is what would be reasonable for private consumption.
Anyone attempting to bring in more than that has to prove to Customs that the alcohol is not going to be sold on. Failing to provide that proof can result in all the goods and the vehicle being confiscated.
The internet provision would be impossible to police. Mark Hastings of the British Beer and Pub Association was highly critical.
‘This would blow a hole in all the current practices around bringing booze backwards and forwards across the Channel,’ he told PA News. ‘By doing it over the internet you can bring as much as you like and not pay UK tax.’
He acknowledged that from the position of the consumer it was ‘a great deal’, but for retailers it would be a crippling blow.
The issue is expected to be voted in Brussels, where Britain has the right of veto.
Written by Adam Lechmere, and agencies