The warning came ahead of a visit today by environment secretary Elizabeth Truss to the Glenkinchie distillery, near Edinburgh, where she will discuss with industry executives and the Scotch Whisky Association the challenge that would be posed by a vote to leave the EU.
The meeting, which will be seen as choreographed ahead of next month’s vote, is being billed as a way for Truss to “hear first-hand” how important the EU market is to a £5bn a year sector that supports 40,000 UK jobs.
Speaking ahead of the visit, Truss said: “Europe has a taste for Scotch and the industry will do better if we remain in the EU because whisky producers have hassle-free, easy access to the Single Market of 500 million people.”
The minister claimed that a vote to leave on 23 June would be a “leap in the dark” for the food and drink industry, the UK’s biggest manufacturing sector, and with Scotch whisky accounting for a quarter of all food and drink exports.
Truss added that Brexit “could lead to years of negotiations on new trade deals – with no guarantees at the end. Our thriving Scotch industry and the wealth it brings us all through jobs and investment will be stronger, safer and better off within a reformed EU”.
The Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs said: “The EU single market provides common standards on labelling, certification and licensing, creating a level playing field which makes overseas trade easier for highly regulated industries such as alcohol.”
Glenkinchie, home of the famous malt, and supplying brands such as Johnnie Walker and J&B, is owned by Diageo, Scotland’s biggest Scotch whisky producer, employing 4,000 people at 50 sites.
Ivan Menezes, Diageo’s chief executive, reaffirmed his support for Britain in the EU. He said: “Diageo – and specifically our Scotch whisky business – benefits greatly from the UK’s membership of the EU and we strongly believe that we should remain within that union.
“The single market gives us a level playing field and open access across the EU, while the EU’s clout in international trade helps to open up new markets with agreements favourable to the UK, reducing tariffs and resolving trade disputes.
“This drives significant value for us and the wider Scotch whisky industry, sustaining jobs and growth at home.”
David Frost, chief executive of the Scotch Whisky Association, said today represented an “excellent opportunity” to meet with the Environment Secretary “to explain more about the huge significance of the industry to the UK economy, and to discuss the benefits we reap from the UK being part of the European Union”.