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Drinks trade groups bemoan MUP ruling

The UK Supreme Court has today ruled that minimum unit pricing (MUP) for alcohol can proceed in Scotland, concluding a lengthy legal challenge from drinks trade groups.

Trade groups have called the Supreme Court’s support of MUP “a sad day for the internal market”

The Scotch Whisky Association took its case against MUP to the UK’s highest court after members of Scottish Parliament approved the legislation in 2012.

The SWA and fellow trade groups Spirits Europe and Comité Européen des Entreprises Vins (CEEV) argued that MUP contravenes European law and is not sufficient to tackle alcohol-related harm.

The European Court of Justice agreed that the legislation was “likely to breach single market rules and distort competition when less trade restrictive measures are available”.

However, last year, Scotland’s Court of Session ruled in favour of MUP, prompting the SWA to appeal to the Supreme Court.

This morning, Justices Lord Neuberger, Lady Hale, Lord Mance, Lord Kerr, Lord Sumption, Lord Reed and Lord Hodge announced their decision that MUP “does not breach EU law” and is a “proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim”.

Scottish health secretary Shona Robison will soon announce the government’s “next steps” in implementing MUP. The Scottish Government expects to set a 50 pence per unit price on alcohol “as quickly as possible”.

“This is a historic and far-reaching judgment and a landmark moment in our ambition to turn around Scotland’s troubled relationship with alcohol,” said Robison.

“In a ruling of global significance, the UK Supreme Court has unanimously backed our pioneering and life-saving alcohol pricing policy.

“This has been a long journey and in the five years since the act was passed, alcohol related deaths in Scotland have increased. With alcohol available for sale at just 18 pence a unit, that death toll remains unacceptably high.

“Given the clear and proven link between consumption and harm, minimum pricing is the most effective and efficient way to tackle the cheap, high strength alcohol that causes so much damage to so many families.”

Objective assessment

The SWA said it accepts the court’s decision and will continue to work with the government and the voluntary sector to promote responsible drinking and tackle alcohol-related harm.

Karen Betts, chief executive of the SWA, added: “We will now look to the Scottish and UK governments to support the industry against the negative effects of trade barriers being raised in overseas markets that discriminate against Scotch whisky as a consequence of minimum pricing, and to argue for fair competition on our behalf.

“This is vital in order that the jobs and investment the industry provides in Scotland are not damaged. At home, we hope to see an objective assessment of the impact of MUP.”

European trade body Spirits Europe called the ruling “a sad day for the internal market”, arguing that MUP will “distort competition” between low-cost and higher-cost producers of alcoholic drinks.

“We remain convinced there are more appropriate, proportionate and effective responses to tackle harmful use of beer, wine and spirits drinks,” commented Joep Stassen, the president of Spirits Europe.

He continued: “This decision sets an unwelcome precedent for fair competition between alcohol beverage producers and for the proper functioning of the internal market.”

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