THE Tories have come under fire for celebrating the “return of the booze cruise” as a “Brexit boost” to areas which support ferry services to Europe.

From January 1, the regime covering what goods could be brought into the UK from overseas duty-free was applied to EU countries for the first time since 1999.

At the same time, the Government increased personal allowances so that passengers coming to Great Britain can now bring in, for example, three crates of beer, two cases of still wine and one case of sparkling wine duty-free.

However, as part of the changes, VAT-free shopping for non-EU international travellers came to an end.

An SNP-bid to revoke the measure was defeated by a majority of 279 – ayes 74, noes 353.

READ MORE: Scottish Government rejects claim Yes vote would hit economy harder than Brexit

During a debate on regulations relating to the changes, the SNP described some of the Tories' comments in the debate as "utterly bizarre".

Conservative MP for Dover Natalie Elphicke said she “makes no apology for being delighted about the return of duty-free”, adding that a ferry trip “is nothing less than a mini-cruise”.

She told the Commons: “From ball pits and play areas for the little ones to video games, one-armed bandits and bars for the grown-ups There’s something for everyone to enjoy.”

She added: “As a young woman there was perhaps nothing more exciting than putting on my dotted, spotted ra-ra dress and dancing across the sea on the ferry disco.

“An introduction to exotic foreign climes, while nothing could quite beat sashaying up and ordering your ‘frites et mayonnaise’ on the chip van in France and Belgium.

“Shopping at Costco is but nothing compared to the delights of a Calais supermarche. From fancy liqueurs to the rather disgusting, but vibrantly-coloured sweets – it was a proper day out.”

Conservative MP Katherine Fletcher, who represents South Ribble, said the changes mean “the return of the booze cruise”.

She said: “Much planning was put in place in our family for the annual, or bi-annual trip, to France to go and gain some wonderful wine, some sparkling wines, some beer.

“This was a military logistic operation with months of planning, including considerations as deep as how many adults can you fit in the car, which of the smaller adults to fit the acquired goods around.”

SNP MP Richard Thomson hit out at the English Tories' comments, saying: “As if the impacts of these changes was all a bit of a jolly laugh extending no further than the ability to stagger off the return leg of a cross-Channel booze cruise armed with nothing more than a blue Brexit passport and a clinking tote bag of bottles to take home with you.

“The businesses and those who work in them who understand the issues at stake and whose jobs are at risk through this change are, I’m certain, looking on aghast.”

Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross said: “I am representing Moray, this is a local issue for me, it’s not a party issue, this is a local issue as a local representative and for the jobs at risk as a result of this SI, I will be voting to annul it tonight because I think that is the right thing to do, to represent my constituents, to stand up for their concerns and the concerns of employers in this area.”

Labour’s shadow Treasury minister James Murray warned the end of VAT-free shopping for international travellers would be a “body blow” to airport retailers, and he called for the Chancellor to review the impact of the changes on jobs ahead of the Budget.

He said: “We accept that in order to comply with World Trade Organisation rules, the Government needed to make changes to the regime covering VAT-free shopping.

“The Government had to amend the approach to VAT-free shopping and to duty-free shopping as well so that the same rules would apply to both EU and non-EU visitors.

“As the UK can no longer distinguish between EU and non-EU visitors to Great Britain, the Government had a choice of two options for VAT-free shopping.

“Ministers could amend the VAT and retail exports scheme and VAT-free retail at airports by extending it or abolishing it for all travellers, and they chose the latter.

“This decision has come as a body blow to jobs across the country, in sectors desperately hoping they might be able to start recovering from the impact of Covid later this year.”

Conservative Anthony Browne (South Cambridgeshire) said of duty-free: “It’s a tax break that may not be that economically efficient in traditional measures, but it is really popular and great fun.

“It’s a tax break for the many, not the few, and I think the Treasury should introduce not a benefit-cost ratio, which it normally does, but a fun-cost ratio.”

Conservative MP Felicity Buchan (Kensington) said: “I am concerned that if we disincentive these visitors from coming to the UK, we materially affect other areas of our economy and potentially also Treasury’s tax takes.”

She added: “My concern is that these shoppers, who are a very distinct group of people, are very highly mobile. The risk is that if we are no longer competitive and we will be the only European country not offering tax-free shopping, that they will simply go to Paris or to Milan.”

Responding for the Government, Treasury minister Kemi Badenoch told MPs: “I do take the point made by [Buchan)] she and I have had several discussions on this issue, and I have had extensive representations from [Ross]. However, they will both know that the Treasury disagrees with their assessments.”

The European Commission vice president is set to travel to London next week to discuss the trade issues that have emerged between Britain and Northern Ireland post-Brexit.

Maros Sefcovic and UK Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove held a half-hour virtual meeting with Northern Ireland’s First Minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill on Wednesday evening.

The crunch talks on the Northern Ireland Protocol were arranged amid mounting tensions over post-Brexit trade.

Speaking after the meeting, Sinn Fein’s O’Neill said the vice president of the commission was “emphatic” that there was no intention by the EU to cause difficulty when it moved to suspend part of the Northern Ireland Protocol.

O’Neill said Mr Sefcovic wanted “to state very clearly” that the EU had “no intention to cause any political difficulty” with the move last Friday.

“He put his hands up and said they had made a mistake and that they moved to rectify that mistake very quickly,” she said.

The move comes as the Tory Government was defeated for the second time in the House of Lords on a key amendment to its Brexit Trade Bill.

READ MORE: Tory Government defeated for a second time on Brexit Trade Bill in House of Lords

The legislation enables the UK to forge new commercial ties with countries after leaving the EU.

But arguing the case for Parliament to have a bigger role, Tory former cabinet minister Lord Lansley proposed a further amendment that would require ministers to publish draft negotiating objectives for a trade agreement, which would need to be approved by MPs.

The consent of Scotland and other devolved administrations would also have to be sought, and a parliamentary debate guaranteed on the final deal.

The Lords backed Lord Lansley’s amendment by 304 votes to 260, with a majority of 44.

The Trade Bill will now return to the House of Commons, where MPs will vote to accept or reject the amendments made by the House of Lords.