Shepherd Neame loses last round

Highest court upholds increase in beer taxes

July 1, 1999 - Independent British brewer Shepherd Neame has apprently come to a losing end in its ongoing battle against increases in government beer duty. The Law Lords has upheld High Court and Appeal Court decisions that the UK government was entitled to introduce two one penny a pint beer excise duty increases.


Shepherd Neame argued that beer excise tax rises in the 1997 and 1998 British budgets were illegal under the European Union's Treaty of Rome. The government argued that there was no legal obligation in the Treaty.

During the course of the battle, Stuart Neame, vice chairman of Shepherd Neame, told the BBC: "We had two options, just to stand by and watch community pubs close and good licensees go bankrupt, or to do something about it." The High Court turned down the brewer's case in July 1998.

But then another 1 pence a pint rise in beer duty went into effect Jan. 1. Shepherd Neame used this to reinforce its claim that the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg should decide the issue. Shepherd Neame claimed that the recent hikes in beer duty contradict the Treaty of Rome, which first established the European Community.

The Treaty set out the need to harmonize duties among member states. UK beer duty is equivalent to 33 pence a pint, more than six times the level in France and more than four times the European average. The EU "target" is 7.5 pence per pint. Only Finland (56 pence per pint) and Ireland (40 pence) pay more duty than the UK.

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