Almost 60 senior players in the UK wine industry have signed a letter urging the next government to keep the temporary duty easement for wine between 11.5%-14.5% abv.

In an open letter ahead of tomorrow’s general election, organisations including the Wine & Spirit Trade Association (WSTA), Majestic, Laurent-Perrier and Laithwaites have called on the incoming government to commit to making the easement, which is due to expire on February 1, a permanent fixture. Such a move, the letter said, would maintain one fixed duty payment for around 85% of wines across the UK market.

The call, which Drinks Retailing has backed via the Crush the Red Tape campaign with the WSTA, would help retailers avoid additional complexity and costs.

Majestic CEO John Colley said introducing 30 new wine duty payment amounts based on abv “does not make any sense”.

“It will increase prices and threaten the quality and choice of wines that UK consumers are currently able to enjoy,” Colley added. “Having already been hit with the biggest hikes in alcohol duty for 50 years last summer, we will unfortunately be left with no choice but to pass on not just the additional alcohol duty cost to customers, but also the significant extra administrative costs we will incur as a result of the complexity of the scheme.”

He added that customers will also be faced with the confusion of seeing different vintages being sold at varying prices, because of small changes in alcoholic strength.

“In extreme scenarios, some popular producers could decide to stop importing their wines to the UK altogether in order to avoid the additional cost and red tape that the new duty regime will introduce,” he added. “Everyone is a loser here – small business, consumers and the Treasury – and the policy needs to be stopped before it is too late.”

Hal Wilson, co-founder, Cambridge Wine Merchants, described the removal of the easement as “unworkable” for businesses.

He said: “Imagine going to a petrol station and the price of fuel changes before, during and after you fill up your tank. Pretty bizarre but what the government’s planned changes to wine duty will be like for importers and consumers from February 2025.  Coming hard on the heels of new labelling requirements in January 2024, a 20% tax increase in August 2023 and costly red tape in the form of new import/export costs in January 2021, the new unworkable and unnecessary tax regime will mean ever-changing and unpredictable amounts of duty to be payable on the vast majority of wine.”

According to the letter, the UK wine and spirits industry generates over £70 billion in economic activity, and over 60% of the sector’s 413,000 full-time equivalent jobs are supported by the hospitality sector.

“An incoming Government should recognise this economic contribution and commit to working towards a sustainable and proportionate regulatory regime that helps to protect an SME-rich industry in the UK, including over 1,000 independent wine merchants,” the letter said.