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  • Northside West

COMMENT: Return of duty free is nothing to celebrate

Monday, 16th September, 2019 7:59am

Story by Tony McCullagh
COMMENT: Return of duty free is nothing to celebrate

Duty-free shopping could be on the way back in the event of a no-deal Brexit. PHOTO: Bigstock

COMMENT: Return of duty free is nothing to celebrate

Duty-free shopping could be on the way back in the event of a no-deal Brexit. PHOTO: Bigstock

AMID all the doom and gloom surrounding Brexit, it emerged last week that a no-deal scenario would result in the return of duty free shopping for those travelling between Ireland and the UK.

Duty free was once considered the holy grail of sea and air travel until those spoilsports in Europe abolished it back in 1999. In fact, such was the lure of cheap alcohol, cigarettes and perfume that it was almost worth the price of the fare. Hence, we had so-called booze cruises to depressing places like Holyhead where even the prospect of choppy crossings and drunken singsongs couldn’t deter the masses from travelling.

The advent of low-cost air travel also made a day trip to dear old Blighty a viable alternative to the local off-licence or supermarket. When you stripped out the price of the air ticket, lunch in London and possibly a few pints at the airport, sure they were practically giving the drink and fags away for nothing!

The news that duty free could be on the way back in the event of a hard Brexit was met with something of a lukewarm response from the public, with some of the talking heads interviewed on television and radio programmes saying they would simply prefer if Britain stayed in the EU. Duty free, it seems, has lost its lustre.

Then, of course, was the realisation that the re-emergence of duty free could cost the Irish Exchequer in the region of €350m in lost revenue – just one of many gaps that will have to be filled from other sources in a post no-deal scenario. One solution would be to substantially hike the cost of a packet of cigarettes in Budget 2020 to offset some of the expected losses to our economy, although this approach could simply play into the hands of those who profit from the illegal tobacco trade.

As for cheap booze, you’d like to think that we’ve matured a bit as a nation since the last duty free era and are now more mindful of how much we should be drinking. Those campaigning for action on alcohol regulation would argue that drink is already too cheap and widely available. The Government has signalled its intention to bring in minimum unit pricing for alcohol, a measure that has successfully reduced consumption levels in Scotland.

While the duty free story was portrayed in some media reports as a tiny chink of light in the Brexit debacle, I imagine it will be met with a collective shrug of the shoulders by a nation that has far more pressing issues on its mind.

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