MPs in Calais bid to bottle up beer flood

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THE DRINKS industry's campaign to stem the flood of cheap beer brought into the UK by cross-Channel shoppers will be stepped up this week by two moves designed to put more pressure on the Government to cut taxes on alcohol.

On Friday, the all-party Parliamentary Beer Club, which has 125 MPs as members and is the largest industrial body in the House of Commons, will lead a deputation of MPs, peers and industry experts to Calais in France.

''We are going to see what is going on there. It is like an assembly line, with drinks flooding back across the Channel,' said a spokesman for the club, whose president is Betty Boothroyd, Speaker of the House.

The day before the group sets off for France, the Brewers and Licensed Retailers Association, the trade body, will publish A Real Alternative. A spokesman said: 'It will quantify the damage being done to the industry and the economy by the present levels of beer duty in the UK.'

It will also highlight 'the distortion of competition within the Single Market' and will try to show that substantial reductions in duty would generate more tax revenue. Ian Prosser, chairman of the association and of Bass, the biggest brewer in the UK, will spearhead this campaign.

Whitbread, the brewer, calculates that the Treasury missed out on pounds 470m of duty on alcoholic drinks last year. Shoppers and bootleggers are annually bringing back the equivalent of 1.25 million barrels of beer, equal to 1 million pints a day. This represents a 3.5 per cent share of the total UK beer market, or a 15.3 per cent share alone of the take-home market.