Sunak heckled over alcohol duty hikes during beer festival photo op
Rishi Sunak has been heckled during a beer festival visit where he was seeking to promote a shake-up of the alcohol duty regime that will hike tax on a range of drinks.
“Prime Minister, oh the irony that you’re raising alcohol duty on the day that you’re pulling a pint,” publican Rudi Keyser yelled as Mr Sunak toured the London event on Tuesday.
Mr Sunak had been insisting businesses and consumers will benefit from the post-Brexit alcohol duty changes, despite the raises on wine, vodka and canned beer.
First set out by Mr Sunak when he was chancellor in 2021, the new system aims to encourage drinkers to cut back by taxing all alcohol based on its strength, rather than the previous categories of wine, beer, spirits, and ciders.
He described the overhaul as “the most radical simplification of alcohol duties for over 140 years”, enabled by Britain’s exit from the EU.
But whisky distillers describe the changes as a “hammer blow” and brewers warn of a tax hike on bottles and cans.
Mr Sunak was pouring a pint of Black Dub stout at the stall of the Wensleydale brewery from his constituency when he was heckled by Mr Keyser, a 46-year-old who runs a chain pub in London’s Wimbledon.
Mr Keyser, a former brewer, told the PA news agency that Mr Sunak’s claim that drinkers and businesses will benefit is just “smoke and mirrors”.
“It’s robbing Peter to pay Paul,” he said, insisting the consumers will see an increase in prices as a result of the changes.
“And he has the audacity to come and pull a pint for PR,” Mr Keyser added.
Another man shouted at the teetotal premier, who is famously a fan of Coke: “Prime Minister, it’s not Coca Cola.”
In March’s Budget, Chancellor Jeremy Hunt also announced that the freeze to alcohol duty would end on August 1 and increase by inflation, at 10.1%.
The increase will see duty rise by 44p on a bottle of wine, which when combined with VAT will mean consumers will pay an extra 53p, according to the Wine and Spirit Trade Association (WSTA).
Duty on 18% cream sherry will go up from £2.98 to £3.85, with VAT adding up to an increase of more than £1 a bottle, while a bottle of port will go up by more than £1.50.
The total tax on a bottle of gin or vodka will go up by around 90p.
The Chancellor is cutting the duty charged on draught pints across the UK by 11p in August in a major boost for pubs and draught beer drinkers, which Mr Sunak hailed as beneficial to “thousands of businesses across the country”.
The British Beer and Pub Association (BBPA) said brewers will pay 10.1% more tax on bottles and cans of beer from Tuesday, meaning tax will make up around 30% of the cost of a 500ml bottle.
Despite the draught freeze, the BBPA said the tax increase on packaged beer will add an extra £225 million of costs per year across the industry.
A hammer blow
Scotch Whisky Association director of strategy Graeme Littlejohn said: “The 10.1% duty increase is a hammer blow for distillers and consumers.
“At a time when inflation has only just started to creep downwards, this tax increase will continue to fuel inflation and make it more difficult for the Scotch whisky industry to invest in growth and job creation in Scotland and across the UK supply chain.
“Rather than choosing to back an industry which the UK Government promised to support through the tax system, the Government has chosen to impose the largest duty increase in almost half a century, increasing the cost of every bottle of Scotch whisky sold in the UK by almost a pound and taking the tax burden on the average priced bottle to 75%.
“In a further blow, distillers will now face a further competitive disadvantage in pubs, restaurants and bars by being unfairly excluded from tax breaks available to beer and cider.
“Pubs and other on-trade businesses are about far more than beer and cider.”
The Chancellor said the Government is doing “all we can” to help Britain’s pubs as they face rising costs, and said the change taking effect on Tuesday “catapults us into the 21st century”.
The Treasury has said more than 38,000 UK pubs will benefit from tax relief that effectively freezes or cuts the alcohol duty on beer poured from tap from Tuesday.
Mr Hunt said: “British pubs are the beating heart of our communities and as they face rising costs, we’re doing all we can to help them out. Through our Brexit Pubs Guarantee, we’re protecting the price of a pint.
“The changes we’re making to the way we tax alcohol catapults us into the 21st century, reflecting the popularity of low alcohol drinks and boosting growth in the sector by supporting small producers financially.”
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