When I was younger I was torn between a career in journalism and one in law. At the time the pen proved mightier than the gown and 17 years later here I am on this illustrious organ. But if I ever had any doubts about my choice, the saga over VAT on certain food and drink items would certainly put paid to them.
Marks and Spencer's long-running attempt to get VAT on its tea cakes refunded serves to highlight how ridiculous our law can be. M&S won its challenge in 1994, was refused a repayment claim - so it appealed, appealed again then appealed for a third time. This was dismissed, the judgement then reopened and the case is now with the European Court of Justice.
Phew! It seems to me that the clever legalese being employed to argue this case (which, by the way, has now moved away from the fact that M&S paid tax it shouldn't have, to a lot of to-ing and fro-ing over domestic versus EU law) is clouding the real issue. VAT law as it stands is inconsistent and nonsensical.
Nowhere is this more obvious than in the case of the smoothie. The Treasury classes this as a beverage, because you drink it. As a result, smoothies attract VAT while mangoes, strawberries and passion fruit do not. Oh, but some smoothies are zero-rated as they include milk, which is exempt from VAT.
Within the context of the government's ambitious health agenda this is absurd. Take VAT off and more people will be able to afford a nutritious product that counts towards their five-a-day intake and is easy to ingest. As our analysis on page 28 says, sales could rise by 15% - equal to half a billion portions of fruit.
Innocent Drinks is trying to get a consortium together to lobby government and I urge relevant parties to get involved. My message to M&S and Innocent is to keep up the fight. We are behind you.