Controversial Ryanair chief executive Michael O’Leary stepped up his war of words with the UK government over Brexit yesterday when he said that UK prime minister Teresa May should return home to deal with the crisis and stop “swanning around Japan drinking tea and sake”.
Investors in airlines, transport and infrastructure are becoming used to apocalyptic warnings about the future of UK-based and/or UK headquartered airlines following any Brexit deal, but his language is noticeably hardening as he warns that there is a strong chance of European flights in and out of the UK “being grounded”.
This week saw an escalation of hostility between EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier and UK Brexit minister David Davis, with the Frenchman claiming that there had been “no decisive progress” during the third round of Brexit talks, claiming that the UK’s proposals showed “a sort of nostalgia in the form of specific requests which would amount to continuing to enjoy the benefits of the single market and EU membership without actually being part of it”.
In the light of such mounting hostility, O’Leary (pictured left) said that the power to stymie flights by UK airlines (while Ryanair is headquartered at Swords, Dublin, London is, along with Dublin, its leading operational base) could prove irresistible to EU member states wanting to “stick it to the British”.
O’Leary said in an interview with 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.”
O’Leary is adamant that, unless aviation arrangements are specifically addressed as part of Brexit, it will be illegal for flights in and out of the UK to EU member states to be grounded, meaning, he said, that if the situation is not clarified by December 2018, the Irish airline would be obliged to cancel all those flights in order to re-sell them within the EU.
‘A car to Scotland or a ferry to Ireland to be the only options on offer’
He said, “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.”
Whether this is a serious scenario remains to be seen. O’Leary has a track record of making outlandish claims that appear to be designed to ensure press coverage for the airline, such as the claim that the airline would be offering free flights for passengers prepared to stand and strap-hang for the duration of the flight, a move that would contravene Civil Aviation Authority guidelines in any case.
Notoriously, O’Leary told a press conference in Düsseldorf in 2008 a proposed business-class service (never launched) would offer paying passengers “beds and blow-jobs”, and another story about introducing coin-operated lavatories on flights appears also to have been a hoax by the airline chief.
Indeed, he appeared to concede as much in this latest instance when he finished by saying that 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.”