Minimum pricing for alcohol in England and Wales will be shelved for another two years at least, as a legal battle over the plans rages across Europe, MPs have admitted.
Today, leading Tory health committee member, Sarah Wollaston MP, revealed that it would be “at least 2014” before the government could push ahead with its plans, as the coalition seeks to defend the principle against growing opposition from countries across the EU.
Although the government in Westminster is still expected to press ahead with a consultation on the proposals, as early as next week, it has been sucked into what promises to be a long and drawn out legal battle over the issue, which sees it going into bat against the drinks industry and several EU countries, alongside the Scottish government.
Ministers in Scotland had already this week admitted that its plans for minimum pricing would not be able to proceed while it fights a domestic legal challenge spearheaded by the Scotch Whisky Association, representing companies including Diageo, Chivas Brothers and Glenmorangie.
In what promises to be a separate legal minefield, Cameron’s government is acting as the member state to defend the plans for both Scotland and England and Wales, amid concerns from the EC and countries including Italy, Spain, France and Bulgaria that minimum pricing will hit its exports.
Wollaston said today: “As half of violent crime is triggered or aggravated by antisocial drinking I am disappointed that the drinks industry giants have decided to take the Scottish government to court over their commitment to bring in a minimum price for alcohol.
“It will be at least 2014 before the government is able to take the most effective action as a result of delays from challenge in the European courts.”
However, drinks companies are delighted at the delay, which comes a week before the beginning of the SWA’s action in Scotland and some suggest it could kill off the threat of minimum pricing altogether.
“We would not be pursuing legal action if we we’re confident of our position,” said a spokeswoman for the SWA. “Ourselves and many other have consistently maintained that minimum pricing is illegal.”
Another source said: “Producers are very confident they will win the legal challenge in Scotland and if that happens it would seem very bizarre for the government in England to push ahead with something that a court has deemed illegal.”