Ukip’s Northern Ireland leader is urging the health minister to introduce a ‘sugar tax’ – despite the party’s overall leader, Nigel Farage, speaking out against such a proposal.
David McNarry, who leads Ukip in the Assembly, said that it was “alarming” that Stormont Health Minister Simon Hamilton had not acted on the issue, and called on him to “break out from his hesitancy mode and introduce new rules in the final months of this Assembly”.
His comments follow an Assembly motion which he tabled three months ago in which he called on the minister “to consider the merits of a sugar tax on drinks with a high sugar content as a protection for children’s teeth”.
The motion has not yet been selected for debate in the Assembly.
But Ukip’s national leadership has been vocally opposed to proposals for a tax on sugar.
Mr McNarry insisted that he was not out of step with party policy, as Ukip’s devolved leaders are allowed to set policy in areas of devolved responsibility.
Mr Farage told BBC Question Time in October: “Whether my can of ginger beer that I like costs 65p or 75p, it makes no difference – but learning in the last year that it contains 12 teaspoons of sugar has shocked the life out of me and I’m not buying it any more.
“Education, not tax, is the answer.”
And in November, Ukip’s deputy chairman and the author of its manifesto, Suzanne Evans, said: “It’s just another tax. Not a health policy, just a tax. In health terms it will be as ineffective as taxes on alcohol.”
Last July, she said that “a sugar tax would signal a descent down a very slippery slope”.
Mr McNarry told the News Letter that he believed the serious problems with both children’s teeth and obesity were such that radical government action was necessary.
He said there was “no problem” with him speaking out about the matter because “it is a devolved matter – our minister here has the power to do something”.
The veteran Strangford MLA said that as Northern Ireland leader of Ukip “my autonomy is pretty wide”.
He said that Mr Farage had told him that he “just doesn’t like taxes; we are a party that wants to reduce tax ... and I understand that”.
Speaking about the wider issue, he said: “We need to have sugar options removed especially for children. I’m not in the business of telling mums and dads what to do.
“But to those seemingly oblivious to the dangers of sugar I stick to my call for a sugar tax in the absence of a sugar ban.
“A recent study by the Government of 3,400 children aged from four to 10-years-old showed five-year-olds consume their body weight in sugar each year with drastic repercussions.
“I welcome the revelation that supermarkets now want laws to force a 50 per cent cut in sugar content of cakes, biscuits, breakfast cereals, chocolate bars and fizzy drinks.
“This is a dramatic U-turn for supermarkets ... so far the silence from our local Health Minister is alarming.”