UK tories embroiled in Cornish Pasty row

UK chancellor George Osborne was confronted on his government's decision to charge value-added tax (VAT) on hot take-away food like pasties. Labour MP John Mann asked Osborne when he'd last had a pasty from Gregg's, a chain of bakeries. Osborne couldn't recall. But PM David Cameron was ready for the question when it next arose at a press conference, stating "I think the last one I bought was from the West Cornwall Pasty Company. I seem to remember I was in Leeds station at the time and the choice was whether to have one of their small ones or one of their large ones. I have got a feeling I opted for the large one, and very good it was too."

The West Cornwall Pasty Company outlet at Leeds station has been gone for two years; there was another pasty baker there, the Cornish Bakehouse, but it closed last week. Patrick Wintour and Martin Wainwright explain in the Guardian:

Despite U-turns on most things this week, Downing Street stuck to its line and insisted that the prime minister had eaten a pasty at Leeds station, but the date was unclear, and possibly the purveyors had not been West Cornwall Pasty Company.

This was just as well, since Gavin Williams, the ungrateful boss of David Cameron's favourite pasty-makers, was not interested in Cameron's endorsement of his product. He wanted "clarity and leadership" from the prime minister.

But clarity is a rare commodity in this area, since it seems a pasty can avoid VAT if it is served cold at the counter and then warmed elsewhere in the shop.

Pasty row hots up for David Cameron

(Image: Cornish Pasty 2, a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike (2.0) image from hammer51012's photostream)


    1. I tried to make them over Christmas and failed. I couldn’t get the dough right. I wish there was a place to buy them near me.

      1.  No ready to use pastry sheets in the shops? I’m a huge fan of meat pies. Sad thing about moving to Australia was that the pies here are generally a tad on the bland side compared to Africa.

          1. We can’t do neither right.

            And English, apparently; so that’s three things. ;-)

            Edit: oh, fixed!

      2. The pastry needs to be industrial strength – as my mum says, a good Cornish pasty has to survive a fall down a mineshaft:

        For 4 pasties.

        500g strong bread flour – you can use plain but the gluten in bread flour makes for a more elastic dough
        120g white fat – vegetable or lard
        25g margarine or if you’re feeling flash – butter
        5g salt
        175 ml cold water

        Use your fingers to mix the fat into the flour until it looks like breadcrumbs.

        Slowly add the water and combine the mixture, eithe by hand or in a food processor until the dough comes together.

        Refrigerate for 2-3 hours to let the pastry rest before rolling it out.

        Now remember the beef has to be skirt, no other cut and certainly not minced.

        You are allowed potato, turnip (yellow swede) and onion as well as the meat. The pasty at the top of the page looks suspiciously like there may be carrot in it – which we know is the sign of the devil.

        The only seasoning is salt and black pepper.

        A good pasty will take about 50 minutes to 1 hour at about 200C.

        And when you’ve mastered the basic pasty you can move on to the miracle of Cornish hydraulic engineering that left Isambard Kingdom Brunel speechless – a pasty with a savoury filling at one end and jam or apple at the other separated by a pastry bulkhead.

  1. “But clarity is a rare commodity in this area, since it seems a pasty can avoid VAT if it is served cold at the counter and then warmed elsewhere in the shop.”

    If the shop supplies the means to heat the food, eg, microwave, its deemed to be providing a service and thus is VATable. So the above statement is incorrect.

    It is a really silly VAT idea, with the main issue being that if you buy a freshly baked pie / pasty it will be hot and thus is VAT rated, yet let it go colder than the surrounding temperature its not VATable.

    What is not clear is the surrounding tempreture, as it could be -10 in the winter and thus your buying a frozen meal, yet in the summer you could be buying one that’s steaming but still be vat exempt.

    Very bizzare!!

    1.  Same crap is going on in Norway, because some braniac wanted to kill of food cost complaints buy reducing the VAT on food (never mind that the merchants basically kept the prices the same and pocketed the difference, while the braniac politician got heaps of bad press when the prices did not change). Thing is that some places will sell you a grilled chicken or similar in a thermal packing, so to still have that count as a simple food item fast food locales have to charge different VAT depending on the person will be eating there or take it with them. This under the idea that eating out was a service while bringing it home (or some other place) was not. VAT politics can drive most to get intoxicated. Never mind that the VAT was conceived as a replacement for other tax systems, not as something to stack on top of them.

  2. a correction: “West Cornwall Pasty Company outlet where he thought he enjoyed his last pasty closed two years ago.

    And… how could this possibly go so far? It’s too silly. Is this how British politics divvies up? the pasty eaters and the folks who desperately want to seem like they eat pasties?

    1. The CBC’s As It Happens says that the West Cornwall Pasty Company outlet in question closed in 2007.

      I can’t understand how Cory heard two weeks, you heard two years, and I heard five years …

    2. The problem isn’t really anything to do with the specifics of the alleged occurrence, those are virtually irrelevant whether they occurred or not.

      It’s with the fact that the PM would appear to be unable to open his mouth without a politically expedient lie crawling its way out.

      It’s the same deal as the assorted inspiring-but-false childhood ‘experiences’ that get trotted out by US candidates during election periods. Nobody gives a damn whether they were actually at $HISTORICAL_EVENT when they were a kid; but the fact that they’ll tell the cameras with a straight face that they attended an event that occurred well before they were born suggests a certain… casual… relationship with the truth.

    3. It is a media fuss, very few people care, but it is something inherently amusing (particularly because of the very upper class nature of the Tory cabinet juxtaposed with the working classness of the cornish pastie) that the media is having a field day with for their own entertainment.

      1. Being a type of meat pie the pasty was originally aristocratic fare at a time when the peasants were unable to afford meat. It is the working class who are out of order here, not the Tories.

        1.  No, the Cornish pasty specifically was invented as food for tin miners. The thick braided bit of crust isn’t meant to be eaten- it’s meant to serve as a handle and then be thrown away, as the miner was holding it with hands covered in tin/lead ore that he didn’t want in his food.
          It may well have originally been made with less/cheaper meat and more root vegetables than they are now, though.

          1. Actually – I hate to contradict but the pasty DID start out as an aristo snack, but was then adopted by the miners DUE to its shape. Listed in early Royal Charters of all things, the pasty fell out of fashion almost everywhere exept Cornwall for a long time, only recently rising again as the savoury nom of choice for Greggs proliferators everywhere.
            Oh – originally, lots of potato, turnip/swede and lots of salt and pepper to flavour up the minimal amount of beef in there.

          2. The Cornish pasty, yes. But the word pasty originally referred to any pie not baked in a tin, and filled with meat. Only the wealthy could afford them.

          3. @google-44da4ddec3715c5077c3ddba1e15daab:disqus  – no. Wikipedia comprehension fail, culinary history fail. And you like to contradict.
            1. Your source for the “royal charter” reference is Wikipedia. What you can say is that at any time before Erasmus of Rotterdam agitated for a program of public education, i.e. C15, what the people were up to on a dfaily basis was simply not documented except incidentally, so the existence of an order for 100 herring baked in pasties is not the evidence you’re looking for.

            2. Potatoes. Again out of Wikipedia. When, please, was the potato introduced to Europe? The answer is after Erasmus.

            3. And finally, you chose to contradict AlexG55 with these defects in your arguments. That’s not something you’d do if you hated doing it. You’d be much more careful before you did.

        2. I don’t believe that’s the whole story by any means.
          The pasty begins as a technique: it’s a food container for a time before the ziplock bag. The protein could be lamb, but equally it could be rabbit, squab, or herring. The story I have is that the specifically Cornish pasty got its name because Cornish tin-miners took them down the mines.

          1. Pastry in Britain was rarely eaten until relatively easily. As you said it was a cooking and carrying container for meats and vegetables.

            The word ‘pasty’ can be found in a number of places in the UK referring to pastry covered usually savoury foods. The Cornish pasty is distinctive because of its shape and possible deadliness – either as a thrown weapon or as an unrivalled calorie delivery package.

  3. This is why David Cameron, rather than George Osborne, is PM; he’s fairly skilled at pretending to be human.

    1. He’s just lucky that he was asked when he last had a pasty, not which set of mandibles he used for grabbing and which he used for tearing. That one trips them up every time.

      1. Carry a packet of pepper in your pocket so that you can blow some in their face and see if the nictitating membrane blinks.

  4. A Cornish pasty should be crimped along the side (not along the top as your illustration shows).

    – A Cornishman

    1. It should be filled with truffles and swan’s brains, and seasoned with the tears of urchins.

      – George Osbourne

      1. I wouldn’t like to generalise, but those across the border tend to prefer a top crimp. Saying that, my grandmother (from St. Ives)  always favoured a top crimp.

        To avoid confusion, I now follow the EU rules that clearly state that a Cornish pasty should be crimped along the side. I wouldn’t like to be mistaken for something I am not – and with a top-crimped pasty I fear that I would be in danger of that.

        1. Wikipedia:

          Whilst the PGI rules state that a Cornish pasty must be a “D” shape, with crimping along the curve (i.e., side-crimped),[30] crimping is variable within Cornwall, with some advocating a side crimp while others maintain that a top crimp is more authentic.[13][39]

          Some sources state that the difference between a Devon and Cornish pasty is that a Devon pasty has a top-crimp and is oval in shape, whereas the Cornish pasty is semicircular and side-crimped along the curve.[35] However, pasties with a top crimp have been made in Cornwall for generations,[41] yet those Cornish bakers who favour this method now find that they cannot legally call their pasties “Cornish”.[42]


          1.  Don’t even get me started on that bloody carrot.  Or the use of mince instead of chunks.  That …thing… makes I twitch.

    1.  It is tiresome when this sort of thing happens. To be fair to Cameron, it’s not entirely his fault: he was asked a stupid question and gave an answer in kind.

      1. I spread the hate wide.  The Tories come out with tales of having pasties every night before bed, and Labour pretend they are with the people by taking the whole shadow cabinet out to Greggs for a gormless photo op.

        Crooks and liars, pick your colour.

  5. Hmmm, pasties?  Shouldn’t those things have little red tassels attached to them?



  6. What about switching to what Ohio does, and stop screwing around with temperature?

    No tax if you take food to go – whether it’s hot or cold – tax if you eat it there – whether it’s hot or cold. There are some edge cases (for instance, Rally’s, where they don’t have dining rooms, but have outside tables, treats everything as to go automatically), but it generally works well.

    1. That’s interesting. So in fast food places like McDonald’s, why doesn’t everyone order the food to go, avoiding the tax, but then just eat it inside anyway?

      1. You could do that, but because the McDonalds is private property, the manager could ask you to leave.

        What I have seen, though, is people getting the food through the drive-through, and then park with their engine running to eat it. (Which pretty much entirely defeats the purpose of saving 7% on your food, given that almost everyone here has gasoline-engine cars that are inefficient at idle.)

      2. People do, and if the manager of the store is particularly vigilant she/he might throw you out.  Generally it’s teenagers who I’ve seen get asked to leave if they do that (because McDonald’s managers are generally looking for excuses to make teenagers leave their stores on the presumption that teenagers cause trouble eventually).   I think most folks figure that if you’re in such dire straights that you need to keep that 42 cents on your $6 meal purchase, they’re not going to hassle you too much about it.

    2. That has been the position here in the UK since VAT was introduced.  Take food is exempt (or strictly speaking zero-rated) and eat in food is charged at the standard rate.

      I haven’t read in detail about this new thing but I think it only applies to ordinary shops selling hot food and not to takeaway food in general.

      If  fish and chips and kebabs had suddenly gone up 20% there would be a lot more fuss.

      Edit: I stand corrected. I’ve just read up on this on the HMRC site and it seems takeaway food was aready standard rate. I must have missed the riots. So that makes this change just closing a loophole. Very clumsily.

      1. Yeah – it always seemed odd that ‘generic pasty’ from the chip shop served hot was 20% more expensive than ‘generic pasty’ from Greggs served hot. Mind you Greggs is about 80% more expensive full stop.

    3. And the answer in Canada would appear to be just to tax them both, so it doesn’t matter.

      Actually, I think what happens is that if you buy a single baked good, it’s taxed because obviously going to be eaten as a meal.  Half a dozen or more are deemed to be something you’re buying as a grocery item and therefore not taxable. So, if you go to Tim’s and get 5 doughnuts, they get taxed, and if you get 6, they aren’t. 

  7. This is a straight forward attack on the working classes, the High Streets and GDP of Cornwall. George Osborne would do well to remember the rebellion of 1497!
    I should imagine the Tory and LibDem  MPs down there are feeling a tad uncomfortable right now. I certainly hope the MP for Falmouth gets off the fence soon and backs Cornwall first. If the chancellor was genuinely trying to be “fair” (instead actually of raising taxes to pay off the failed banks) why did he not just reduce the VAT on Fish’n’chips?

  8. I can’t  believe that you’re all talking about taxes! You have a Piegate falling right on your lap to exploit and get rid of an oppressing government! Your prime minister (or ours) has a right to fuck you in every orifice that you have, then poke your eyes out to have more, but he cannot lie about eating PIE!!!

    I’m asking mine when he’s been at Tim Horton last, first chance I get: that guy eats nothing but cat meat so surely he’ll lie too.

  9. Weirdly enough, I’m something of an authority on this, as I worked in a pasty shop while at college. Anyhoo, the pasty counts as a luxury item if provided hot for the express purpose of being eaten that way – so keepip them hot = pay VAT. If however, you happened to time your ovens so that they all came out at 1pm, just when people want them hot, but you didn’t keep them hot under a warmer, then no VAT for you. 

    Daft, but easy enough to avoid if you’re planning on opening a pie franchise anytime soon!

  10. Pastygate and recommending people refuel are .NOT. a distraction from DonorDate/Doner (kebab)Gate/DinnerGate. No they’re not.

    1. The cornish pastry assn is full of shit!  The son of a bitch in the photo on the page has a whole goddamn tray of the things with the motherfucking crimp on top!  WHAT THE FUCK?!

  11. And from Billy Bragg’s twitter feed : 
    “must pay more attention to the news. Been out all morning panic buying pasties.”

    1.  For those not following UK news, this a reference to the fact that people are currently panic buying petrol. 

      There is a tanker drivers strike due to start in a couple of weeks, but the government has managed to turn this into “Fill up your tanks now or die!” and created a panic out of nothing.  

      They also managed to recommend buying and storing petrol in your home, which is a) unsafe and b) illegal for all but the smallest amounts.

      1. Jim – what I think the govn’t is doing is actually smart. BY encouraging people to ‘top up’ right now, they’re forcing the petrol stations to run lower than they’d expect – meaning they’ll have to schedule fill-ups next week, just a couple of days before the threatened Easter strike – leaving the stations nice and full for the busiest driving weekend of the year, and screwing the money-grabbing scrotes in Unite.

        1. Perhaps what the money-grabbing scrotes, by which I mean the govn’t, have figured out that if people panic-buy for the next week it might prevent the Q1 figures from showing the economy back in recession? I would not however infer any intelligence from their actions.

  12. I’m going to be *that* guy: The picture is not of a Cornish pasty (crimping is in the wrong place). Also, this doesn’t just impact Cornish pasties, but all pasties and in fact, any warmed over food.

  13. Misread “row” as “now” and thought this was a story about cannibalism.  Quite disappointed to find my error.

  14. (Ahem.)  American here.  And wow.  63 comments.  About the taxation and Common Man appeal of, essentially, Hot Pockets.

    I thought we Yanks were exclusively entitled to the stupidest political fights.

    1. According to my Taiwanese friend the political debate goes: Problem -> We need to do it my way, because the Mainlanders will do the opposite -> melee.

  15. 67 comments, and nobody’s mentioned the core issue here: Greggs is a pathetic excuse for a bakery. Their trading hours are crap-to-nonexistent, and their products are at best meh. The worst baker Germany has to offer can do better while blindfolded and high on angel dust. When the continental chains decide to hop across the channel, Greggs will be completely pwned.

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