A leading expert on alcohol policy has outlined where the rest of the UK and Ireland are in terms of adopting minimum unit pricing on the back of the Supreme Court ruling which has paved the way for it to be introduced in Scotland.
Dr John Holmes (inset), from the Sheffield Alcohol Research Group, which was commissioned by the Scottish Government to look into the issue, thinks the initiative is unlikely to be adopted in England under the current government.
However, he says that Wales, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland have all made progress towards bringing in similar measures. Last week the Supreme Court backed the Scottish Government’s proposals and ended a sustained five-year legal battle waged by the Scotch Whisky Association on behalf of parts of the drinks industry.
The whisky association had claimed the move was a “restriction on trade” and there were more effective ways of tackling alcohol misuse.
Minimum pricing, which was hailed by campaigners as “Scotland’s biggest public health breakthrough since the ban on smoking in public places”, will see a 50p price per unit of alcohol brought in as early as next year and is expected to result in 120 fewer alcohol-related deaths and 2,000 fewer hospital admissions per year.
Dr Holmes said there was little appetite amongst the current Conservative government to adopt minimum unit pricing in England in the midst of the Brexit negotiations.
He said: “No-one here expects anything to happen until at least the evaluation results come out in Scotland.”
He added: “The Irish Republic has higher alcohol taxes already, so they have to talk about a higher minimum price. They’re talking about minimum price around one euro and that’s because they don’t have very cheap cider.”
According to Dr Holmes, Wales will be the next country to bring in minimum unit pricing. He said: “They have got the same legal debate we’ve had in Scotland about whether the policy is legal under EU law.
“But my reading of the ruling of the Supreme Court is they feel that national governments should have the discretion to make their own judgment on that.”