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Last Updated: Thursday, 7 October, 2004, 16:46 GMT 17:46 UK
'Booze cruise' dispute unresolved
Alcohol being loaded into a car from a supermarket trolley
Going abroad to buy alcohol is known as 'booze cruising'
A row between the government and the European Commission over penalties for the illegal import of alcohol and tobacco remains unresolved after talks.

UK customs officials were asked to justify or change "disproportionate" penalties at ports for those deemed to have quantities meant for resale.

They said that Thursday's meeting in Brussels had been constructive and that the talks would continue.

The UK faces European court action if it does not soften its stance.

EU single market rules state that shoppers can buy any amount of drink and cigarettes abroad and bring it into Britain without paying British excise duties, as long as it is for themselves and not for commercial sale.

This issue is not about shoppers and their right to unrestricted cross-border shopping for their own use
HM Customs and Excise
Duties are supposed to be paid if the goods are bought for someone else - friends or family - even if it is not for profit.

Breaking the law has led to people having their goods confiscated or having to pay a fine.

In some cases people who have been accused of smuggling have had their cars impounded and even crushed.

A statement from HM Customs and Excise said: " Following the meeting with the EU today, discussions are ongoing.

"The key issue under discussion relates to sanctions in a very small category of technical cases . This issue is not about shoppers and their right to unrestricted cross-border shopping for their own use. "

The meeting came just two days before a deadline set by the commission for the UK to set out its position.

'Severe' punishment

Prior to the talks, a Commission spokesman said the UK had to clarify its position on punishment for those bringing alcohol and tobacco back to sell on a " non-profit basis to their friends and families".

"We have told the UK that the current penalties - not only the payment of fines but also the seizure of the goods and their cars - are disproportionate.

"We have told them they have to change".

Customs officers say they are only seizing goods and impounding vehicles if they suspect the rules are being exploited by people bringing in vast quantities of alcohol and tobacco which cannot possibly be only for their own use.

But the Commission says taking property amounts to a "severe and intrusive" sanction when applied to "minor fiscal offences of a not-for-profit character", even if it is justified in some cases.

The right to purchase tobacco and alcohol abroad for "non-commercial" use was agreed by EU governments in 1992 as part of the opening up of the European single market.

Cross-channel shopping is an attractive option for many as it is a way of by-passing high British tax rates on cigarettes and alcohol.




SEE ALSO:
'Booze cruise' legal threat to UK
07 Jul 04  |  Politics
Customs 'unfair' to day-trippers
13 Nov 03  |  Business
Customs deny defying High Court
13 Aug 02  |  UK News
UK rejects EU customs warning
19 Dec 01  |  UK News


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