SWA appeal against minimum unit pricing underway

The Scotch Whisky Association’s (SWA) appeal against minimum unit pricing (MUP) in Scotland has begun at London’s Supreme Court, with the decision likely to  set a precedent on the future of alcohol pricing in the UK.

The Scottish government approved plans to introduce MUP on alcohol, which would see a minimum of 50 pence charged per unit of alcohol sold, in 2012. Under the plans, the cheapest bottle of wine would be £4.69, a four pack of 500ml cans of beer would cost at least £4 and a bottle of whisky could not be sold for less than £14.

However the plans are yet to be imposed and have long been the subject of debate and resistance by the SWA, which has argued that such a measure would not reduce the number of heavy drinkers in Scotland and was in breach of European law.

This was confirmed by the European Court of Justice last year, which agreed that Scotland’s plan to introduce MUP is illegal because it breaches EU trade laws.

Despite this, in October 2016 the Court of Session rejected a challenge to minimum unit pricing brought by the SWA, paving the way for the government to push forward with the controversial policy.

In November the SWA confirmed it would be appealing the decision, taking its case to the UK Supreme Court in London.

Speaking on BBC Radio Scotland’s Good Morning Scotland, Karen Betts, chief executive of the SWA, said: “We believe that the minimum pricing of alcohol is illegal under EU law. Minimum pricing actually amounts to a trade barrier and this is a real concern for our industry.

“The success of Scotch really depends on our ability to sell successfully overseas, so if other markets respond by imposing similar barriers to free competition, Scotch will be damaged and with it the communities, the jobs which rely on the industry’s continued success.”

During the appeal, the trade body will argue that alternative pricing measures exist that would be less disruptive of free trade and competition across the EU single market, and would have at least an equivalent level of effectiveness in achieving the aim of the Scottish Government to improve public health.

While the SWA is fighting for Scotch specifically, the decision is likely to set a precedent for all future proposals for minimum unit pricing of alcohol in the UK, with the issue now complicated by the uncertainty over the UK’s membership of the European Union, which arose after the initial decision was taken in 2012 by MSPs.

The SWA’s appeal will be heard in London on Monday and Tuesday of this week.

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