You have to wonder if UK politicians who have been promoting minimum alcohol pricing might have been a bit pissed when they made the decision to go for it.
Consider this response to a parliamentary question tabled by a UKIP member of the House of Lords.
Lord Willoughby de Broke (UKIP) To ask Her Majesty's Government what assessment they have made of whether their proposal for minimum pricing on alcohol is compliant with European Union law.
Lord Henley (Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; Conservative) The legal advice which the Government have received on this issue is subject to legal privilege. We do not, therefore, believe it appropriate to disclose this advice (or any summary of it). The Government are currently in discussion with the EU Commission on this issue.You'd think, wouldn't you, that if a government was bold enough to announce such a courageous policy as minimum pricing, someone would have made absolutely sure that it was legal under EU rules.
Lord Henley's inability to disclose even the merest detail of the legal advice they have received suggests they might be having a few problems.
It's the same in Scotland where Nicola Sturgeon is similarly struggling.
[Labour’s Scottish health spokeswoman, Jackie Baillie, said:] “If [Nicola Sturgeon] is so confident, why does she not come clean and finally publish the legal advice, her proposed minimum price, and formally notify the EU?”One thing is quite clear. The only answer to this apparent dithering lies in Brussels, as Cameron's advisers seem to understand quite clearly.
At a private meeting on March 26, three days after the Prime Minister set out his controversial alcohol strategy, industry sources said that Whitehall officials told representatives it was their understanding minimum unit pricing did raise legal concerns.
The meeting had been planned prior to Mr Cameron's announcement to discuss more routine tax issues. But minimum unit pricing was raised among the opening remarks, with Treasury officials relaying their view that the policy could have difficulties under European law.
The Treasury disputes that it said anything more than laying out some of the legal issues, although industry sources said it went further than that.Oh, it goes a lot further than that. In an answer to Lib Dem MEP George in February, the situation was explained conclusively.
It seems that the EU are quite happy for member states to implement minimum pricing on alcohol, as long as it doesn't unfairly hinder trade from other EU countries. However, the competition law aspect insists on comprehensive impartiality. And that comes with some rather awkward conditions.
From a competition law perspective, the critical factor when it comes to a national measure setting minimum alcohol prices is that the alcohol industry should not be involved in the process in any way whatsoever, since this would render the measure contrary to Article 4, paragraph 3, TEU, in conjunction with Article 101 TFEU. The Court of Justice has held that national measures where a Member State requires, favours or reinforces an anti-competitive agreement or where it delegates to private operators the responsibility for taking decisions affecting the economic sphere will infringe said provisions.Translated, this means that any legislation would have to be implemented without any company or individual in the alcohol manufacturing or retail industries even being allowed to take part in the consultation exercise. So much as a letter or a phone call would render the whole thing illegal and they'd have to start again from scratch.
North of the border, this puts the SNP in right sticky situation. How do they get their little baby through by wilfully ignoring whisky manufacturers who they regularly talk about in very proud terms, and whose products provide a massive boost to the Scottish economy?
Cameron has even worse problems. He would appear to have driven into a cul de sac from which he is going to find it extremely difficult to reverse. Y'see, he has doggedly defended his decision to include industry in proceedings. In fact, his 'responsibility deal' is a commitment inextricably written through his government public health agenda. It is, quite simply, a major plank of his government's modus operandum.
For minimum alcohol pricing to reach the statute book, every tie with anyone from the drinks industry will have to be cut. They would have to be blackballed at a stroke.
I can imagine some policy formers in the Tory party holding their sore heads and groaning "never again, Lord, I swear!", as the reality of their binge-meddling hits home. Either an embarrassing climb-down beckons or else they'll be picking a fight with major businesses which will never go away in our lifetime.
As if that wasn't funny enough, the fallout - should Cameron be stupid enough to dig his heels in - promises to be even more hilarious.
A minimum price for the off-trade is just the start, as the Sheffield University study which underwrites every single piece of anti-alcohol rhetoric states quite clearly.
Differential minimum pricing for on-trade and off-trade leads to more substantial reductions in consumption (30p off-trade together with an 80p on-trade minimum price -2.1% versus -0.6% for 30p only; 40p together with 100p -5.4% compared to -2.6% for 40p only). This is firstly because much of the consumption by younger and hazardous drinking groups (including those at increased risk of criminal offending due to high intake on a particular day) occurs in the on-trade. It is also because increasing prices of cheaper alcohol in the on-trade dampens down the behaviour switching effects when off-trade prices are increased.Yes, you read that correctly. A minimum alcohol price for pubs.
And if the precedent has been set for the off-trade, and the medical community states - as it will - that such a move is essential to save lives according to the University of Sheffield, politicians will be faced with the prospect of being forced into implementing that too. What's more, they'd have to do so without engaging in discussion with pub-loving interests in any way whatsoever.
Can you imagine the horror on minimum price advocate CAMRA's faces if that were to materialise? Not to mention all those MPs who currently fall over themselves to defend pubs despite their policies having crushed them.
Stock up on popcorn boys and girls, this could turn out to be the best political laugh-fest since David Mellor shagging in a Chelsea shirt.