Brexit benefits are hard to come by, so why not invent a few? Enter Rishi Sunak.
On August 1, under plans first introduced two years ago when Sunak was chancellor, the government implemented its changes to alcohol tax under its so-called Brexit Pub Guarantee. This has been touted as the most radical shake-up in 50 years, good news for drinkers and something that would have been impossible if Britain were still in the EU.
But the truth is somewhat different – the BPG is anticipated to do very little to lower the cost of a pint in your local and Sunak and his predecessors could definitely have cut prices before Brexit.
The BPG’s USP (that’s unique selling point rather than an obscure bitter) is that tax will now be levied according to the strength, rather than the type, of alcohol. This means that duties will rise on most wines and spirits – by as much as 50p and £1 per bottle respectively – but fall on lower-alcohol drinks like beer, cider and most sparkling wine. Duty on draught beer and cider by will fall 9.2%, although the standard rate of duty on packaged beer will rise by 10.1%.
Sunak was heckled when he launched the new duty regime at a beer festival in west London on Tuesday, and it’s not hard to see why. While the fall in beer duty has been welcomed by brewers, it’s hard to see landlords passing the cuts on to their customers at a time when heating and staff costs continue to rise rapidly.
The BPG has gone down particularly badly in Scotland, with its whisky heritage. Paul Waterson, a spokesperson for the Scottish Licensed Trade Association (SLTA), told The National: “We are not convinced that this change in draft beer and cider duty will help us or our customers in any way. For the chancellor to say this cut in draft beer duty is a ‘Brexit Pub Guarantee’ is as naive as it is fanciful.” With the changes seeing whisky typically taxed at 75% on the bottle, Graeme Littlejohn, the Scotch Whisky Association director of strategy, described the move as a “hammer blow for distillers and consumers”.
But it is Sunak hailing Britain’s so-called “Brexit freedoms” as the catalyst for the duty reduction on pints that is the most controversial aspect of this policy. While taxing by strength rather than type of drink is not the norm in EU countries, this is hardly the point when countries in the EU have always been able to set their own duties for alcohol, and Britain’s are prohibitively high,
All this is being pointed out underneath Sunak’s own post on Twitter. In the “readers added context” feature, users have generously reminded the prime minister that duty changes could have been implemented while the UK was a member of the EU. Commenters also added that these plans still mean UK alcohol duty is much higher than the EU average (as of July 2022 this sat at 5%, meanwhile the UK paid 11 times more than Germany).
Elon Musk has won few over with his Twitter renovations but perhaps here’ is a silver lining. Cheers!