The UK Government has attempted to stave off crippling US tariffs on Scotch whisky by saying it could be prepared to leave American bourbon out of a growing transatlantic trade war.
Ministers urged US president Donald Trump to “think again” over new tariffs due to be imposed in just ten days, which include a 25 per cent tariff on the £1 billion worth of single malt Scotch whisky exported to the US every year.
Former Scottish secretary David Mundell said 3,000 jobs could be at risk across rural Scotland if the tariffs go ahead, with some small producers wholly reliant on exports to the US for their business.
“I’m sure if the Prime Minister was able to convey directly to President Trump the damage that these proposals will do to Scotland, particularly rural Scotland, that could have an impact,” Mr Mundell said.
Mr Mundell and Moray MP Douglas Ross, who warned his constituency would be “severely affected” if the tariffs came into force, also called for a commitment that EU tariffs on bourbon, imposed in retaliation for tariffs on European steel and aluminium, would be dropped by the UK.
Trade war 'in no-one's interests'
“When we leave the European Union, nothing is off the table,” international trade minister Conor Burns said.
Mr Burns insisted there “would be no winners” stepping up the trade war - which stems from a WTO ruling over illegal subsidies to aircraft manufacturer Airbus - and said the UK Government had been in direct contact with US vice-president Mike Pence over the issue.
The minister urged MPs to contact US ambassador Woody Johnson. “He’s known to be very close to President Trump and I’d encourage all honourable and right honourable members across the House to contact the American ambassador, and make him aware of the strength of feeling on this subject,” he said.
SNP MP Brendan O'Hara (Argyll and Bute) said he was in no doubt the tariffs would have a "hugely negative" impact on one of Scotland's most important and growing industries.
He said: "The Scotch whisky industry employs 11,000 people directly so I encourage UK ministers to do everything they can to resolve this as quickly as possible because it is in no-one's interests to have a trade war like this, one where everybody will almost inevitably end up on the losing side while jobs, confidence and future investment will be all affected."
Impact will be 'enormous'
For Labour, shadow international trade secretary Barry Gardiner said: "The impact of these tariff measures on our biggest markets, particularly for products like Scotch whisky, is enormous and no amount of new trade agreements overseas could mitigate that imminent threat."
Mr Ross said his Moray constituency would be "severely affected" by the US announcements due to its whisky and biscuit manufacturers.
He added: "A zero tariff on bourbon and American whisky when we leave the European Union would send the strongest possible message to the US that the UK is on their side and they should take away these tariffs."