UK sails into storm over booze cruise penalties

Contributed by editor on Oct 20, 2004 - 10:12 PM


The European Commission is taking the British Government to court  over "booze cruise" penalties against cross channel shoppers.

<IMG alt="Booze cruises" hspace=5 src="images/channel.jpg" align=left vspace=5 border=0>The Government is charged with breaching EU rules o­n the free movement of goods by imposing "disproportionate" penalties o­n travellers bringing cheap alcohol and cigarettes back from the continent in larger quantities than customs officers believe is for their own use.

Penalties imposed by Customs staff at the channel ports, include the impounding of cars and in some cases and the seizure of goods.

The Treasury claims it  is losing about £3 billion a year in lost excise duty revenue.

Many shoppers do not realise when they are breaking the agreed rules.

Under EU law shoppers can buy any amount of drink and cigarettes abroad, excise duty paid, and bring it in to Britain without paying British excise duties so long as it is for private consumption.

The dispute is over the treatment of those who admit to Customs that they are bringing in goods for friends and relatives which makes them liable to UK duty even if there is no profit.

Customs officers have insisted they are o­nly cracking down hard o­n people they suspect of exploiting the rules and bringing in vast quantities of alcohol and tobacco which cannot possibly be o­nly for their own use.

The Commission says that, while seizing property may be justified in some cases of genuine smuggling, it amounts to a "severe and intrusive" sanction when applied to "minor fiscal offences of a not-for-profit character".