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Last Updated: Tuesday, 19 October, 2004, 15:09 GMT 16:09 UK
Brown in 'booze-cruise rethink'
Alcohol being loaded into a car from a supermarket trolley
Going abroad to buy alcohol is known as 'booze-cruising'
The chancellor could back down in a row with the European Commission over the tough penalties on "booze-cruisers".

Gordon Brown is believed to be ready to agree first-time offenders who import goods for friends for no profit will no longer have their cars seized.

And such shoppers will not now have their goods seized, but instead made to pay the duty evaded plus a fine.

A climbdown could avert court action by the European Commission which has dubbed the rules "disproportionate".

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.

Duties are supposed to be paid if the goods are bought for someone else - friends or family - even if it is not for profit.

UK customs has confiscated goods or imposed fines where people have broken the law.

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


The European Commission has branded the sanctions too severe in cases where people would not profit from selling the goods to family and friends.

It has said taking property amounts to a "severe and intrusive" sanction when applied to "minor fiscal offences of a not-for-profit character".

The commission had ordered UK customs to change its stance, and threatened to refer the matter to the European Court of Justice.

Talks between the commission and HM Customs and Excise held earlier this month reportedly failed to resolve the issue.

HM Customs and Excise says officers only seize goods and impound 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.

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.

'Booze cruise' legal threat to UK
07 Jul 04  |  Politics
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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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