Anthony Browne is a former director of Policy Exchange and a former Europe correspondent of the Times.
Anyone over the age of 38 is likely to remember travellers’ joyous obsession with Duty Free – you could buy tax-free alcohol and tobacco, a shadow of the normal price, at ports and airports when travelling between the UK and the rest of the EU.
Airline passengers would make desperate last minute purchases, having to rush not to miss the boarding, while special “booze cruises” plied the Channel. No Government wanted to risk the wrath of voters by abolishing duty free but, despite Tony Blair’s desperate international diplomacy to try and keep it, abolished it was in 1999. The European Commission had won its long campaign against what they insisted was an infraction of the Single Market.
But of course, Brexit changes all that. A post-Brexit government will be free to bring back Duty Free for travellers to France, Greece, Spain and other European destinations (unless we end up staying in the Single Market). Some MPs, such as Charlie Elphicke, have been pushing to bring back Duty Free not just to bring joy to passengers, but to help revitalise ports and other seaside towns.
However, the government has been quiet on the issue, despite some media speculation. Eurotunnel say ruefully on their website: “currently there is no Duty Free shopping on trips between the UK and countries in the EU, and the UK Government has yet to announce whether it plans to reintroduce it after Brexit.”
Again, it is a popular issue that comes into play again because of Brexit. If the Government made a high profile pledge to bring back Duty Free, then those who wanted to scrap Brexit would have to justify to voters why they wanted to keep it banned.