Councillors that sparked fury by calling for Northumberland to promote cross-border booze cruises to take advantage of minimum unit pricing in Scotland have come out against plans to introduce the scheme in England.

The Labour councillors urged the council to advertise towns like Alnwick and Berwick as destinations for Scots to stock up on alcohol and beat next year’s price hike, which affects Scotland only.

Health workers, Scottish MPs and alcohol campaigners queued up to criticize the Labour councillors. 

One Labour MP in the area, Ronnie Campbell, even branded plans to market cross-border booze tours “silly”, because “you don’t need to advertise to a Scotsman where to find cheap beer”.

But the group has continued to talk up the benefits of cross-border trade and call it a “golden opportunity”.

Now it has spoken out against the introduction of minimum unit pricing in England.

Group leader Grant Davey said it would be “the wrong tax at the wrong time” and would penalise responsible drinkers.

The coalition government is holding a formal consultation on taking similar action to that agreed by the Scottish government, which believes the 50p minimum unit price will help tackle the country’s binge drinking problems.

But Mr Davey said: “At a time when the economy is in a double dip recession, and Northumberland is seeing an unprecedented fall in household incomes, introducing what amounts to a stealth tax on alcohol does not make economic sense. We see this as the wrong tax at the wrong time, which will penalise responsible drinkers.”

Nevertheless he added: “We see Scotland’s actions on alcohol pricing as an opportunity to help local businesses in a tough economic climate.”

Colin Shevills, director of the North East Alcohol Office, hit back and said: “Minimum unit price has been independently reviewed and is proven to target young people and heavy drinkers.

“It does not penalise moderate drinkers.

“If it was set at 50p per unit it would save almost 4,000 lives, reduce hospital admissions by 97,900 and cut 45,800 crimes each year across England.

“This would cost a moderate drinker an extra 28p per week. We believe that this is a small price to pay when it comes to our health and wellbeing.”