Minimum Alcohol Pricing and EU Law

Angus MacCulloch

The announcement regarding minimum alcohol pricing on Friday 22nd March was unusual in a number of respects. The UK Govt does not usually make significant announcements on Friday, as most MPs are away from Westminster on constituency business, but it also indicated a reversal of their previous policy. Plans for the introduction of a minimum price per unit are already well advanced in Scotland but the Westminster Govt is a more recent convert. As soon as the proposal was announced it was clear the implementation of the policy was likely to come under legal challenge from the drinks industry. The Telegraph, The Guardian and the Daily Mail all indicate that the drinks industry had ‘legal advice’ that the minimum pricing would be contrary to EU Law.

But does this claim stand up to scrutiny, or is this simply the familiar use, or abuse, of EU law as a non-specific political bogeyman?

The media reporting lays the basis of these claims at the door of the EU competition rules, but the wording also suggests a health justification of the sort seen in the Treaty’s free movement provisions. I’ll consider both of those possibilities.

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