Relieved retailers have welcomed an EU decision that means consumers will not be able to buy booze and ciga­rettes online at lower duties from abroad.

The European Court of Justice ruled that "only products bought for personal use for a private individual are exempt from excise duty in the country of importation" - which means that goods bought outside the UK must be brought back personally by the consumer.

A different outcome could have had a devastating effect on retailers' businesses, ­especially over Christmas, said National Federation of Retail Newsagents president Sam Whiteside.

James Lowman, chief executive of the Association of Convenience stores, said: "We are relieved. Had cross-border trade become legal in this way, it would have had a devastating effect on our market."