Ryanair has stepped up warnings that flights between the UK and Europe are imperilled by Brexit, with the airline’s chief executive Michael O’Leary claiming that the prospect of disrupting aviation was one of the quickest and best ways for the EU27 to “stick it to the British”.
O’Leary said that only “panic and fudge” would now allow flights to continue, and an interim deal would effectively mean Britain “rolling over” on its previous red lines on freedom of movement and submitting to European regulation.
As airline schedules and flight bookings released almost a year in advance, Ryanair insists it needs legal certainty before autumn 2018 in order to sell flights departing after March 2019, when Brexit takes effect.
He also criticised Theresa May on Sky News: “I fail to see what she’s doing in Japan for three days at the moment, why she’s not in Brussels or in Frankfurt or in Paris, which is where these negotiations need to take place.
“She’s just come back from three weeks’ holidays in the Swiss Alps. Now, everybody is entitled to their holidays, but there’s a crisis coming down the road here for the UK economy in the next 12 months.
“Brexit is going to be a disaster for the UK economy. She needs to be over there negotiating or at least removing these roadblocks, not swanning around Japan drinking tea and sake.”
He said earlier: “If Britain gets pushed out of the EU, it is absolutely the legal position that flights must stop. You’ve got to negotiate that bilaterally. And yet David Davis and the other geniuses in Brussels can’t negotiate the departure bill, the EU citizen rights ... they haven’t got round to talking about aviation.
“If we don’t know the legal basis for which they’re being operated we’ll be forced to cancel those flights by December 2018 so we can put those flights on sale in Europe.”
He said Europe was set against a deal: “What the British have underestimated is to the extent that the voices in Europe are lobbying against a deal on flights ... There’s an increasing awareness in the corridors of power in Paris, Brussels and Frankfurt that aviation is the one to stick it to the British government over, because [its effects] come six months before March 2019.”
O’Leary claimed: “All bookings for summer 2019 will carry a government health warning, that this is subject to regulatory approval.”
He added: “What is increasingly likely to happen is that there will be no flights. Mrs May and the Brexiteers will be trying to explain that to you in 12 months’ time, why getting a car to Scotland or a ferry to Ireland are the only options on offer.”
Accused of being hysterical, he conceded he did “not really believe there will be disruption of flights in April 2019 – but only because Britain will roll over. It’s the whole myth of Brexit.”
While Ryanair has this week joined the industry group Airlines UK, to lobby for more certainty over Brexit, his competitors have not aired concerns in such drastic terms, and easyJet has described O’Leary as scaremongering.
O’Leary said other airlines were “in denial”, but added: “You’ll see not just us but other airlines start to scream at Mrs May.”
He claimed easyJet was “secretly shitting themselves” over Brexit. O’Leary produced a document which had been circulated in Brussels showing that carriers including Air France-KLM and Lufthansa were demanding full regulatory convergence in any deal, and stopping all cabotage rights – meaning UK carriers such as easyJet would not be able to fly domestic routes within Europe.
EasyJet recently took out the £10m insurance policy of setting up a new company in Austria, easyJet Europe, to operate its intra-EU flights after 2019, although the head office of easyJet plc remains in Britain. O’Leary predicted: “That ownership and control structure won’t survive a hard Brexit. Even the Germans can see their way through that one. The charade is going to be hugely ineffective.
“The French and Germans aren’t sitting on the sidelines: they’re going to actively shaft [British Airways owner IAG] and easyJet. This is an historic opportunity for them.”
Responding to O’Leary’s claims, an easyJet spokesman said: “All passengers, all airlines and all governments want there to be flights between the UK and Europe because of the huge value they bring.
“EasyJet Europe is just as secure as Ryanair – it is a Europe-based, European-owned airline.”
O’Leary was speaking in London as Ryanair announced six new routes for 2018 as part of its biggest ever flight schedule from the capital, with flights from Stansted to Aalborg, Denmark, Dusseldorf and Frankfurt in Germany, Oradea in Romania and Pardubice in the Czech Republic, as well as Luton to Bydgoszcz, Poland.
He used the opportunity to reiterate Ryanair’s call for a crackdown on alcohol sales at airports, saying: “We have to deal with the discomfort to our fellow passengers, diversions of aircraft, and danger when it becomes out of hand.” He said the airline had written to the Civil Aviation Authority proposing reforms including limiting purchases to two alcoholic drinks per boarding card, but had yet to receive a response.
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