Phew! Sighs of relief all round as Law Lords uphold the findings of the European Court of Justice on the legal status of the M&S chocolate-coated teacake. After thirteen years of litigation the byzantine baked goods and confectionery tax laws have been interpreted to classify the teacake as a cake and not a biscuit, entitling M&S to a refund of the £3.5m they paid in VAT between 1973 and 1994.
One doesn’t know whether to envy the lawyers the thirteen years worth of fees from this case or to commiserate with them over a third of their working lives spent embroiled in the minutiae of tax law and bakery products. Did they fret for hours about chocolate coatings or wake at night in a cold sweat over the exact definition of millionaire’s shortbread?
And what of the £3.5m? Well, Customs and Excise felt it would ‘unjustly enrich’ M&S, since customers had paid VAT as part of the retail price. Now the store is to receive the windfall, it will be interesting to see whether it is translated into benefits for customers in the current retail climate. If there are any free teacakes, I'll be first in the queue.