I have never been on a booze cruise. It seems a dreary way to spend a day and not the best way to save money. My son once went to Epernay to stock up with fizz for some grandiose party he was planning. It took him a week, sampling the product and exploring the niceties of the methode champagnoise, and more money than he had intended.
Still, we can all share the ferry companies' relief that the European Court ruled against giving booze cruise tax breaks on imports ordered on the internet.
This would never have cost the British exchequer the #16 billion some scaremongers suggested. That is the full amount Gordon harvests from drink and tobacco duties – already depleted by the booze cruisers. But it would have dug a nasty hole in it, which we would have been called on to fill with other taxes.
That is one unpleasantness we should now be spared in his Pre-Budget the week after next.
Unhappily, it is unlikely to be the end of the matter. The issue is the conflict between the single European market – bureaucracy-ridden, but in many ways a Euro success that benefits Britain – and the wish of national politicians to levy taxes their own way.
In Britain that entails a hefty "health" tax on tobacco, the mainstay of the booze cruise industry, and relatively heavy alcohol taxes – although that on spirits has withered under the nine-year rule of a Scottish Chancellor. Across the Channel, wine-making countries look after their own with low, or nil, wine duties.
In a perfect single market they would all be the same, VAT, too. Yet, even with the existing imperfect market, we have booze cruisers and truculent truckers showing their sensitivity to cross-Channel competition fuelled with lower-tax diesel, applying pressure to smooth out tax differences.
With company tax the pressure is global. The burgeoning insurance industry in Bermuda would have stayed here but for British taxes. If HSBC muses publicly about going somewhere else to save tax, you may be sure that in no end of smaller outfits they muse privately about the 12-and-a-half per cent corporation tax that beckons a sixty-minute flight away in Dublin.
That is all very well, an aspect of the globalisation that probably really does more good than harm. But what is left? Whenever a Government needs a bit more dosh, it has to take it off private individuals – in income tax, NI, inheritance tax, or whatever stealthy wheeze occurs to the Chancellor of the day.
Not quite yet, though, by the mercy of the European Court. Be thankful for the reprieve, however temporary.
Welcome Ed Balls's move to let holders of existing cash ISAs shift them into the stocks and shares variety – but don't rush. Cash ISAs pay no tax on the interest. But the dividends from shares in any ISA are taxed.
There is not a penny of tax to save until you cash in profits of more than #8,800 in a single year. Not many ISA investors are going to do that. There is scope for some lurid mis-selling here.