Scottish food and drink manufacturers ‘fear Brexit’

By Michael Stones

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags United kingdom

Scottish food and drink manufacturers fear the consequences a vote to quit the EU, according to the boss of Scotland Food and Drink, who urged a back-to-basics approach to manufacturing.

“Our biggest single trading partner beyond these shores is Europe,”​ James Withers told in this exclusive video filmed at the Oxford Farming Conference earlier this month.

‘Scare manufacturers in Scotland’

“Anything that might potentially undermine that would scare manufacturers in Scotland,”​ he said. Up to 78% of Scotland’s food and drink exports are delivered to EU countries. While not having asked manufacturers directly about their views on the topic, the Scotland Food and Drink boss said the organisation was not picking up the view that food businesses “saw a rosy future outside Europe”.​ 

Withers also warned that a UK vote to quit the EU would almost certainly trigger a new independence referendum, which the Scottish National Party (SNP) was, this time, likely to win.

“The SNP has said quite clearly they would view the UK coming out of Europe as being against Scotland’s wishes and that it would trigger a new Scottish independence referendum,” ​he said.

And with the SNP leading the opinion polls for the country’s May election, in the event of a vote to leave the EU, a second independence referendum in Scotland ​looked inevitable”, ​he added.

On Tuesday (January 26) former Prime Minister Tony Blair told a French radio station Scotland was likely to pull out of the union if the UK voted to resign its EU membership. “In my opinion ... if the United Kingdom votes to leave Europe, Scotland will vote to leave the United Kingdom,​he told the radio programme, according to BBC News.

‘Less one-upmanship’

Meanwhile in a wide ranging interview with, Withers appealed for less one-upmanship in Scottish food manufacturing and more support for a common brand.

“I think in a world where consumers are getting confused about all these health claims, a back-to-basics approach – which talks about quality of product, quality assurance and the talented people that are behind these products ​ would attract shoppers.”

He added: “The competitor of food manufacturers in Scotland is not the guy round the corner, it’s the guy on the other side of the world.”

Speaking at the same conference former environment secretary and Conservative Member of Parliament for north Shropshire Owen Paterson said quitting the EU would greatly benefit​ the UK food and drink industry.

  • This video was filmed by Alice Foster.

New Scottish independence referendum?

“The SNP has said quite clearly they would view the UK coming out of the EU as being against Scotland’s wishes and that it would trigger a new Scottish independence referendum.”

  • James Withers, Scotland Food and Drink chief executive

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