Minimum alcohol price law in Wales delayed to 2020

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Plans for a minimum price of alcohol in Wales are being delayed until at least early 2020 after an EU member state held up the process.

It was expected the new regime would be in place by this summer.

But EU rules have stalled the proposals after Portugal intervened. Scotland’s system has been operating since May 2018.

The Welsh Government wants to charge 50p a unit – meaning a bottle of wine could cost at least £4.69.

It is not yet known why Portugal has issued its “detailed opinion” on the regulation – a method usually used by member states to object to other EU country’s plans.

But it was one of five countries that had objected to the Scottish Government’s plans in 2013 – along with France, Italy, Spain and Bulgaria.

They argued that it breached European free trade law by discriminating against imported alcohol products – saying the policy was illegal, unfair and ineffective.

After years of legal argument the UK’s Supreme Court gave the go-ahead in 2017, saying the law did not breach EU regulations.

Vaughan Gething, Wales’ health minister, has told AMs that he anticipates the regulations will be laid in the autumn and the minimum price coming into in force by “early 2020”.

New regulations concerning products brought-in by member states are subject to a “standstill period” of at least three months – meaning nothing can happen in that time – but because Portugal has issued a “detailed opinion” it means that has been extended to 21 August.

The Welsh Government has to respond. It says ministers cannot lay the regulations on the minimum price with the assembly until the autumn.

EU countries can restrict imports on public health grounds but only if it does not constitute a “means of arbitrary discrimination or a disguised restriction on trade between member states”.

Ministers believe tackling excessive drinking could save one life a week and prevent 1,400 hospital admissions a year.

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A Welsh Government spokesperson said: ‘We will be considering the detailed opinion received from the EU Member State (Portugal) and will report to the EU Commission with a response in due course.”

The Portuguese representation to the EU was asked to comment.

A report on Wednesday said alcohol sales in Scotland in 2018 fell to the lowest levels seen in the country since records began in the early 1990s.

People in Scotland were still buying more alcohol than people in England and Wales on average – but the gap had narrowed.

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