Treasury under fire for pushing no-deal Brexit duty-free shopping

A campaign to advertise the return of limited duty-free shopping when visiting EU countries in the event of a no-deal Brexit has attracted criticism and mockery on social media.

The chancellor, Sajid Javid, announced passengers travelling to the EU in a no-deal scenario would not have to pay UK excise duties on cigarettes and alcohol purchased in airports, and the Treasury posted on social media in support of the change, but immediately ran into a negative reaction.

The campaign has been “ratioed” on Twitter – a term for when a post has many more comments mocking it than it has retweets or likes. But rather than just the usual series of jokes and memes, users raised a consistent set of objections to the proposal – not least that it is at odds with the government’s stated policies on discouraging drinking and smoking.

Given the revelations in the leaked Operation Yellowhammer documents that the government expected there to be interruptions to the food supply and medicine shortages in the event of a no-deal Brexit, some wondered whether HM Treasury had got its priorities right.

There were also questions about whether the government had inadvertently breached one of its own laws by promoting cheaper cigarettes. The Tobacco Advertising and Promotion Act 2002 states: “A person who in the course of a business publishes a tobacco advertisement, or causes one to be published, in the United Kingdom is guilty of an offence.”

Several people pointed out that since parliament had legislated this week to rule out a no-deal Brexit, the government was promoting a scenario that could only come about if it disregarded the law.

Other users raised the issue of the UK border with Ireland, pointing out that if the government were insisting that in a no-deal scenario it would not be checking goods at the border, this move to significantly lower the price of alcohol and cigarettes at airports in Northern Ireland would likely make the prospect of smuggling more attractive.

And even pubs in the UK were puzzled as to why the Treasury was spending money to advertise it.

The announcement of the limited reintroduction of duty-free shopping to EU destinations marked a change of tone from government communications around no-deal planning, as it was the first advert to suggest a specific positive outcome of leaving the EU without a withdrawal agreement.

On the whole though, reaction on social media suggested duty-free shopping was more of a silver lining than a great tangible benefit.

It is not the only social media mishap to result from the government’s Brexit advertising this week. The Cabinet Office’s “Get ready for Brexit” paid social media adverts have been using the same animated video on both Facebook and Twitter, leading Twitter users to be urged by the government to tap on a “Learn more” button that does not exist on that platform.

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