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Saturday 24 March 2012

Drink Price EU No Shock Horror

It’s one of those perfect combinations of hate figures: the so-called “nanny state”, the EU, the Duty Men, and of course an assault on Freedom. All these come together in the fevered and occasionally desperate response to the proposal for minimum pricing of alcoholic drinks, which I looked at yesterday. The latest stance of the why-oh-why brigade is that the UK Government couldn’t do it for legal reasons.

And to that I call bullshit. The argument is academic, and boils down to little more than semantics. This is exposed by the Mail’s attempt – in its front page lead today – to assert that the move would “break EU law”, but then citing a treaty article that covers trade between countries. If all alcoholic beverages sold within one country are treated equally, that does not apply.

The Telegraph attempt is yet more lame, as it kicks off with the bogus assertion “Under the Government’s alcohol strategy, shops will be banned from selling cases of 12 bottles of wine at a discount or beer as a multi-buy offer”. More baloney: neither case discounts nor multi-buy offers would be banned by the proposed changes. It is all down to the alcohol content. More sloppy journalism.

But, as the man said, there’s more: with the name of Bruno Waterfield on the by-line, you just know that the EU is in for some serious misrepresentation. “The European Commission sounded a warning to Britain about the policy” readers are told, before the follow-up “minimum tax rates to be preferable to minimum pricing for alcohol”, which, as I pointed out earlier, is effectively mere semantics.

The UK, after all, is not alone within the EU in having higher rates of duty on alcoholic drinks than some of its neighbours: Sweden not only has significantly higher duty than Germany and Estonia, but also sells spirits, wines and beer with a higher alcohol content than 3.5% only through Government run stores. That country’s arrangement has no problem with EU law.

Whichever mechanism the UK Government uses to put its policy into law, the possibility of the EU derailing it is precisely zero. In the meantime, the Telegraph could always dedicate some time to eradicating the sloppy hackery that has shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper boarding a train “at Kings Cross St Pancras station”, which is the Underground station.

Ms Cooper would board a train bound for her constituency at Kings Cross station. That might seem a mere detail, but getting details wrong casts doubt on the rest of the piece. The Telegraph of old would have been decently researched and properly subbed, and would not have made such a howler. Nor would it have let misinformation on the EU, or any other subject, into the paper’s News section.

Small wonder it is so universally known nowadays as the Maily Telegraph.

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