Boris Johnson pledged a major review of whisky duty and signalled the industry could be in line for a tax break if he wins the General Election.
On a visit to a Moray distillery, the prime minister said the initiative, which would be launched by a Tory Government next year, would make Scotch more competitive across the world.
The promise was made at a time when the whisky industry is reeling from a punitive 25% tariff imposed by Donald Trump’s US administration.
At the Diageo-owned Roseisle Maltings, outside Elgin, Mr Johnson said he had made several interventions with the US Government in a bid to get them to remove the trade barrier.
Distillers have warned that the tariffs could cost jobs in an industry that directly employs around 11,000 people in Scotland, most of them in rural areas.
The tariffs are expected to hammer the sector which last year exported around £1 billion worth of Scotch to the US.
On his first visit to Scotland of the General Election campaign, Mr Johnson said a “review into excise on Scotch whisky” would be carried out “so that it can be even more competitive and so we can sell even more Scotch whisky around the world”.
The announcement was welcomed by the whisky industry which has intensified its long-standing calls for duty to be lowered following the imposition of the tariffs.
The tariffs also affect other famous Scottish products like shortbread and cashmere.
The whisky sector has long objected to the fact that tax on Scotch currently stands at 72%, meaning around £3 in every £4 spent on the drink in the UK goes to the Treasury through excise and VAT.
The industry argues that the regime penalises “home producers” of Scotch, given that whisky is taxed 16% more than wine.
Mr Johnson declined to be drawn when asked if the alcohol duty review would be enough to offset the damage caused by US tariffs.
But when asked if it would result in a fall in whisky duty, the prime minister answered: “We will have to see in the review, but I would hope that we can alleviate the duties on Scotch whisky and sell even more Scotch whisky.”
The pledge was welcomed by the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA), who said it was the industry’s “number one” ask of politicians during the election.
SWA chief executive Karen Betts said: “This announcement is welcome and opens the door to reforming a broken system in which large inconsistencies between alcohol categories put Scotch Whisky and the wider UK spirits industry at a competitive disadvantage.”
Mr Johnson claimed the tariffs had been “cynically triggered” by the EU Commission when it put a tariff on American bourbon, because it resulted in retaliation by the Americans.
He also argued that coming out of the European Union would result in the tariffs no longer applying.
When asked if Mr Trump had promised to drop the tariff after Brexit, Mr Johnson refused to divulge his conversations with the US President.
But he added: “Coming out of the EU – the tariff vanishes.”
Tomorrow, however, Deputy First Minister John Swinney will travel to Moray and argue that Brexit will deliver a “crushing body blow” to whisky.
Mr Swinney will accuse the UK Government of failing to strike deals to replace EU brand protections that apply to products like Scotch.