Government plans to introduce minimum unit pricing for alcohol look set to be dropped after David Cameron faced opposition to the measure from members of his Cabinet.
It is thought that Theresa May, the home secretary, Michael Gove, the education secretary and Andrew Lansley, the former health secretary all put pressure on the prime minister to drop minimum pricing.
The government is understood to have backed a 45p per unit price, which it claimed would help curb problem drinking and reduce drink-related deaths.
But opponents to the proposal within the government argued that a minimum price would hit responsible drinkers unfairly.
The Wine and Spirit Trade Association has argued that there is little evidence that minimum pricing would actually reduce problem drinking and chief executive, Miles Beale, said that consumers would welcome the news. He said: “Consumers will welcome the report that the prime minister is reconsidering plans to hike up the cost of alcohol.
“Minimum unit pricing would penalise responsible drinkers and treat everyone who is looking for value in their shopping as a binge-drinker.
“New government figures show that alcohol consumption has fallen significantly – down 16% since 2004. When families are struggling to make ends meet the Government should not push ahead with this policy – nor push up prices further at the Budget through the alcohol duty escalator.”
The Labour Party also jumped on the news, calling it a “humiliating climb down” for the government and particularly for the prime minister, who was a big believer in the policy. Early last year when talking about introducing minimum pricing, Mr Cameron said: “This shows a radical government, not frightened of taking big decisions, rolling up its sleeves and getting on with the job.”
Labour’s shadow home office minister, Diana Johnson, told the BBC: “We hear reports the home secretary has changed her mind on her own policy and wants to U-turn. This is weak leadership and weak government.
“The home secretary and the prime minister said this measure would cut crime and prevent alcohol abuse – what’s changed?”
A number of Conservative backbenchers have expressed their concerns and dismay over the news that minimum pricing could be dropped.
Posting on Twitter Sarah Wollaston MP wrote: “Very concerned about suggestion that minimum pricing to be dropped from alcohol strategy.”
Dr Vivienne Nathanson, director of professional activities at the BMA, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that her message to the prime minister would be: “Be courageous: this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to save lives, to save the country money. Both of those are very good deals for him.”