Ryanair’s chief executive is readying himself for a marketing nightmare if it’s forced to cancel flights between the UK and Europe should the prime minister fail to strike an ‘open skies’ deal with the EU within the next 12 months.
In a scathing attack on Theresa May, Michael O’Leary said she “needs to pull the finger out” on Brexit negotiations instead of “swanning around Japan drinking tea and sake”.
He warned that flights for summer 2019 holidays will come with a warning that bookings are “subject to governmental approval, flights being approved, or being authorised” and that it won’t hesitate to cancel all flights to and from the UK by September 2018.
“If there isn’t an agreement reached with the Europeans, then Britain gets pushed out of the EU. From our perspective, it is absolutely the legal position that the flights then stop. It needs to be negotiated in the next 12 months and yet the geniuses in the Brussels haven’t got round to it,” he said.
“The airlines and tour operators need an agreement by September 2018 because if we’re selling flights for summer 2019 and we don’t know the legal basis on which they can be operated we’ll have no option but to cancel them.”
In that event, O’Leary said that – being an Irish operator – it will be relatively more sheltered than counterparts. It will take the 60 aircraft it has in the UK and put them into its European hubs to take advantage of a flight schedule in Europe that will be sparse as a result of British airlines being grounded.
“Will it be smooth? No, it will be fucking inconvenient and damaging,” he said.
“But we can do that as a European airline. We’ll dump loads of cheap flights that would otherwise be used by Brits going on holidays to Spain, France and Greece. I’d rather not, but if we need to do it we’ll do it."
Ryanair’s main rival, easyJet, would be the hardest hit and O'Leary claimed executives are “shitting themselves” at what’s on the horizon.
“The Europeans will shaft easyJet and disrupt us because they can. It’s a historic opportunity and it’s in their [Brexit] briefing document,” he said, hinting at a document he had seen.
“[The document says] ‘No internal flights between within Europe for any UK airline' even if there is a bilateral agreement. EasyJet are shitting themselves.”
EasyJet has tried to mitigate risk by setting up a new headquarters in Austria, a “hugely ineffective, £10m charade,” O’Leary said.
“And you’re underestimating the extent to which the voices in Europe are lobbying against there being a deal [with the UK] on flights.
“In Brexit, the Germans and French will make sure you pick a side. You can’t be both European and British.”
He said despite efforts to get involved in the Department of Travel’s proposals, all sectors are “being told to shut up and sit in the corner”.
“The UK is going to run out of time and what’s increasingly likely to happen is there will be no flights to and from the UK and Europe. And Mrs May will be trying to explain that to people in about 12 months’ time when you can’t book a flight anywhere but Scotland.”