Top Scottish food and drink producers give their reaction to Brexit decision

We find out how some of the big names in Scotland's food and drink industry have reacted to the news of the Brexit vote.

Published 25th Jun 2016
Updated 21 st Sep 2023

After months of debating and campaigning, the decision has been made. The United Kingdom is set to leave the European Union.

Scotland saw a 67.2 per cent voting turnout with only 38 per cent voting to leave and 62 per cent choosing to remain in the European Union.

Scotland's votes, however, were not enough to sway the overall decision which saw a majority of 51.9 per cent of Britons voting to leave the EU.

Nowhere has the decision been more closely monitored and scrutinised than within Scotland’s food and drink industry, which is famously divided in its alliances to the role and overarching influence of Brussels in their operations.

The Scotch Whisky Association and drinks giant Diageo, who were among the most vocal supporters of the Remain campaign, have both spoken out about their decision to respect the final choice of the UK population.

The chief executive of the SWA has also warned the industry faces “significant uncertainty” following the EU referendum.

Scotch Whisky Association chief David Frost. Picture: Contributed

Scotch Whisky Association chief David Frost. Picture: Contributed

David Frost said: “The process of leaving the EU will inevitably generate significant uncertainty. Of course, we are confident Scotch whisky will remain the pre-eminent international spirit drink.

“But equally, there are serious issues to resolve in areas of major importance to our industry and which require urgent attention, notably the nature of future trade arrangements with both the single market and the wider world.”

Frost also added that the government "will now need to consult as it prepares its negotiating approach" and that the SWA "look forward to working closely with them on that".

“We urge thoughtful and serious consideration by all parties so that we can secure the best possible continued access to the EU and other export markets on which Scotch Whisky’s success has been built, whilst minimising costs and complexity.”

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A Diageo spokesperson, who emphasised the company's desire to maintain and benefit from access to the EU's common market, said: “We respect the views of the British people in the EU referendum.

"As one of the UK’s leading exporters, Diageo remains committed to the long term prosperity of the Scotch whisky industry and will now work closely with our industry bodies to seek clarity on the transition process.

"It is a priority that the UK continues to benefit from open access to the EU as well as favourable international trade agreements to protect the UK’s important export industries, including Scotch whisky.”

Pete Ritchie, a pro-EU farmer, owner of Whitmuir Organics and Founding Director of Nourish Scotland, was far from happy with the result, he said: “After an embarrassingly crass campaign, the UK public have made their decision. It’s wrong for Scotland, and the consequences will be turbulent for the foreseeable future, with the independence question coming back at the wrong time and for the wrong reason.

“Many groups in society will be badly affected, not least our colleagues and neighbours from other EU countries and people living on low wages who face further austerity.

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“Scotland is at risk to lose 40 per cent of its farms within the next five years as a result of this decision. For many farmers this means going out of business unless the cynical ‘vow’ from the ‘Brexiteers’ to match CAP payments is honoured. And that’s about as likely as Whitmuir’s sheep getting top spot at the Highland Show.”

Not everyone was disappointed by the Brexit vote, Jimmy Buchan, star of BBC’s Trawlermen and Peterhead fisherman for more than 40 years, said: “I’m delighted with today’s decision. It’s a fantastic opportunity for Scotland and the UK to start a new chapter on our relationship with Europe.


Jimmy Buchan. Picture: Hemedia

“I started a career in the fishing industry nearly half a century ago and have seen huge changes. I’ve witnessed colleagues and friends forced out of business and lose their livelihoods, all under supreme governance of the EU. Britain exiting the EU gives us with the chance to redefine our position in the world.

“Ultimately the decision has been made and I call on the opposition to respect the democratic system our country is famous for. We must remain positive and positivity is infectious. Our passion for Scotland’s food and drink will not diminish and I know that separating from Europe will present us with amazing opportunities. It may be painful at first but we will get there.

“Scotland is famous for its world-renowned food and drink industry and this fame will continue to grow, regardless of today’s decision. I’m calling all of my industry colleagues, no matter what sector, to remember that we have a common goal – to ensure we put the provenance of our food and drink at the forefront of all we do.”

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While Tony Reeman-Clark, Owner of Strathearn Distillery, one of Scotland’s latest producers of craft spirits, was intrigued by the opportunities that were now open to Scottish producers, he said: “This is a hugely important and an exciting day for Scotland and the rest of the UK. We now have the opportunity to stand on our own and to work with the entire world.

“Trading with places like Australia and India, will now be easier as the Commonwealth wants to re-engage with us as partners.

“Ultimately we are in for a lot of hard work over the coming years but it’s going to be very exciting to see what happens.”

Driven by a passion for all things drinks-related, Sean writes for The Scotsman extensively on the subject. He can also sometimes be found behind the bar at the world famous Potstill bar in Glasgow where he continues to enhance his whisky knowledge built up over 10 years advising customers from all over the world on the wonders of our national drink. Recently, his first book was published. Dubbed Gin Galore, it explores Scotland's best gins and the stories behind those that make them.
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