Beer duty stamps 'very likely' to face challenge
Plans by the Government to introduce duty stamps on beer are likely to face a legal challenge, according to a senior legal expert at Heineken UK.
Following the Government’s consultation on their proposed introduction of duty stamps on beer bottles, cans and containers below ten litres in March, the All-Party Parliamentary Beer Group launched an inquiry into beer tax fraud.
This inquiry is due to report its findings to Treasury ministers on or around the closing of the public consultation on 25th June 2012.
When it was suggested to Heineken’s UK Head of Legal, Graeme Colquhoun, by panel member John Healy MP that it was not difficult to see potential legal challenges to the proposals, Mr Colquhoun said “yes, personally I think it is very likely”.
Such a legal challenge could be based on a number of factors, including restricting trade within the European Union. One example given by Mr Colquhoun was of Spanish premium beer which, if the proposals went ahead, would be subject to a charge of 15p per unit as a result of the duty stamp. Mr Colquhoun called such a charge a “barrier to trade”, which would make it unlawful.
Referring to the EU Treaty, he went on to say: “It’s incredibly hard to see how you could have an effective duty stamp regime on beer that didn’t make it really difficult to import products into the UK, and that would be a breach of articles 34 and 35”. Articles 34 and 35 refer to the free movement of goods.
Mr Colquhoun also attacked HM Revenue & Customs’ assessment that beer duty fraud costs £500m per year, describing the figure as being “crazily high”.
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