ROYAL Dutch Shell has highlighted uncertainty caused by the Brexit vote but said it wants Scotland to remain part of the UK.

Chief executive Ben van Beurden made clear the oil and gas giant’s unease at the shock outcome of last Thursday’s vote, which he said had posed a risk to economies across Europe.

“The outcome of the EU referendum has created uncertainty. It’s crucial that the European governments keep a steady hand on the tiller of the economy in these unprecedented, unpredictable circumstances,” the Dutch executive told a conference in London.

He added: “Shell has always been clear about the benefits of the single market and free movement of people, both to the UK and the EU as a whole. I hope that the future relationship between the UK and the rest of Europe will continue to provide the right conditions for economic growth.”

While a majority of votes cast in Scotland favoured the country remaining in the EU, Shell had no comment to make on the prospect that the Brexit vote would trigger a second independence referendum.

However, a spokesperson said: “Our preference for Scotland to remain part of the UK stands.”

In advance of the referendum on independence for Scotland in 2014, Shell said it wanted the UK to remain a single country. It said independence for Scotland would cause uncertainty.

However, Mr van Beurden’s comments yesterday will do little to ease concerns about Shell’s long term commitment to the North Sea, where the company has shed around 1,000 jobs amid the crude price slump.

Asked what the Brexit vote might mean for Shell’s operations in the UK, Mr van Beurden said; “Immediately nothing will happen. We will still continue to invest in the UK, we will still continue to deliver our $4 billion (£3bn) up till 2018.”

The comment refers to an investment programme under which Shell is developing giant fields off Shetland.

The UK may have left the European Union by the time the programme has finished, possibly leaving the company’s future in the country in question.

“The big question is what next, we cannot say. We will be in a period of uncertainty and until things are clear it is hard to predict,” said Mr van Beurden. He noted Shell is a global business with a tax domicile in the Netherlands.

With oil and gas firms grappling with the crude price plunge, Shell has made clear it wants to cut investment in mature fields in the North Sea. It says the costs of operating in the area are too high.