Brewery fights rise in duty

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The Independent Online
An independent brewery has been granted leave to bring a judicial review against the Government's decision to raise the duty on beer.

Shepherd Neame, based in Kent, has won the right to a High Court hearing over the planned rise which comes into effect on 1 January. It claims the increase is illegal.

The duty on beer in France is less than one-third of that in Britain and more than a million pints of beer are brought back across the Channel every day.

While the large conglomerate breweries can sustain the loss from cheaper imports, the smaller companies have suffered since the European borders opened.

Stuart Neame, the vice- chairman of the brewery, said that one in every three pints of beer drunk in Kent now comes from Calais and his brewery had been forced to close or sell 45 pubs since 1993.

He added that the rise in duty was against the fundamental principle of the Common Market in which everyone should be able to trade on an equal level and hailed the judge's decision as a landmark ruling. Any duty increase should now be deferred until the High Court has considered the matter.

"Mr Justice Keene has examined the papers, and agreed that we have a case that must be answered," he said.

"For the first time the Government will have to answer in the High Court for its apparent disregard of its obligations under the Treaty of Rome. These clearly state that EU members must work towards the harmonisation of excise duties, and abstain from measures which would jeopardise the Treaty's objectives.

"A judge has now confirmed that we have a valid basis for arguing that the proposed duty increase is illegal."

A spokeswoman for the Treasury said last night that it was a matter for EU member states to make their own decisions on taxation.

"We will be dealing with this vigorously and robustly - we have a cast iron case. We have asked for as expeditious a hearing as possible and we look forward to dealing with the issue speedily," she said.

-- Kate Watson-Smyth