FRIENDS OF SO-CALLED ‘ELUSIVE’ Northumberland County Councillor Roderick Lawrie claim the EU has forced him to move his home and his £300,000-a-year business out of England which, as a result, will force him to resign from the council.
Cllr. Lawrie, who represents a dozen parish councils in the Norham and Islandshires district, has apparently been hit with a multi-million-pound EU ‘tobacco tax’ bill which he must pay in order to continue to distribute snuff throughout the 28 member countries of Europe.
According to a former employee of his company – which used to operate from his Tillside home at Tiptoe near Berwick upon Tweed – the cost of registering each of Toque Snuff’s different products would have been an undeliverable 2.4million Euros in the first year and 1.4million Euros in subsequent years.
“It is all very well charging cigarette or vaping manufacturers for each brand they distribute, she said. “But Toque Snuff had developed about a hundred different flavours in ten different sizes and they were to be charged individually for each one. It seems so unfair!”
An article in The Newcastle Journal (click here) shortly after Cllr. Lawrie launched his snuff business in 2010 spoke of the popularity of his “whiskey and honey snuff to Mongolia, peanut butter to Hawaii or selling Alaskans tins of chocolate snuff”.
Finally tracked down by The Clarion to his new home in Invergowrie near Dundee, Cllr. Lawrie declined comment on the reasons for moving his business offshore but spoke of his “deep regret” that the EU situation would force him to sever his role with Northumberland County Council.
Cllr Lawrie represents the following parish councils: Ancroft, Bowsden, Cornhill, Duddo, Ford, Chatton, Holy Island, Horncliffe, Kyloe, Lowick, Norham and Shoreswood.
Difficulties in contacting him led to rumours among the parishes that he was on the verge of resigning and one parish council went as far as issuing a Freedom of Information request for details of the number of full council and committee meetings Cllr Lawrie had attended.
Under the headline ‘Has Councillor Lawrie Quit?’, [click here] the Lowick Live online newsletter reported this week: “The elusive Councillor, who failed to attend most meetings of his local Parish Councils and who now seems to live in the Isle of Man, is said to have resigned, or be on the edge of resigning.
“As a non-resident, with not even a business interest in the County, it is said that he is ineligible to stand for the office he was elected to.
“Many Parish Councils have been concerned at his non-appearance at meetings, and his lack of local knowledge – most have come to expect advice and real contacts with County departments to come from their County Councillor. Little has come from Councillor Lawrie since he was elected almost 2 years ago.
“Fuel for the rumours has been added to the flames because the local Tory party has been actively canvassing local people with a record of local service to stand in his place. And now his name has been omitted from the list of Conservative Councillors in the County.”
“I have had to leave my home at Tiptoe, base my business on the Isle of Man and move my home to Invergowrie, from where I commute,” said Cllr. Lawrie.
“With emails and technology I can run the business from the island but I can’t do that with the council business, I’d be letting the electorate down.
“I would love to come back to Northumberland and employ the people I employed and enjoy the lifestyle I loved,” he added. “But I can’t see any way other than to resign my seat. It’s very frustrating.”
Ironically, not every EU country has kow-towed to the European Tobacco Products Directive (TPD). Germany, a major snuff and tobacco producer, has refused to implement the registration charges. The UK, however, has accepted the requirement.
“He has argued until he’s blue in the face without any change of heart at Westminster,” said a friend, “despite our MP (Anne-Marie Trevelyan) doing everything she could.”
Even leaving the EU under Theresa May’s ‘final’ deal would not remedy the situation, as the years of delay involved in the UK extricating itself would bankrupt Toque Snuff before Brexit arrived.
When Cllr. Lawrie DOES resign his predecessor, the LibDems’ Norham farmer Dougie Watkins, is keen for a comeback. Contacted by The Clarion and asked if he would be prepared to stand again for Norham and Islandshires, he replied: “Just try stopping me! I’d be honoured.”
Mr Watkins, an NCC councillor for many years, was defeated when the LibDem vote collapsed in the 2016 election.