24 October 2019, The Tablet

A bibber’s Brexit

A bibber’s Brexit

In the run-up to a possible no-deal Brexit, the Chancellor of the Exchequer recently offered the return of duty-free outlets at British ports and airports. This seemingly benign sop was widely seen in the wine trade not only as rearranging the deckchairs on the deck of the Titanic, but a serious distraction from the vexed question of excessive duty levied on wine.

Despite having overtaken beer and spirits as Britain’s favourite alcoholic drink, wine still faces disproportionately heavy duty: over the last 10 years, the tax on wine has risen twice as fast as on beer. The last time it was reduced was when Nigel Lawson was chancellor 35 years ago. At present, if you buy a £5 bottle of wine, 61 per cent is tax: 83 pence VAT and £2.23 duty. A miserly 30p goes to the producer. It has been estimated that the tax levied on wine in the United Kingdom counts for 68 per cent of the total wine tax levied throughout the rest of Europe. The revival of duty-free sales is attractive precisely because of this draconian tax regime.

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