by James Crisp from The Telegraph, July 11, 2017
Flights between the UK and the European Union will be cancelled for months after Brexit, unless replacements for EU airline agreements are struck before Britain leaves the bloc, Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary told the European Parliament yesterday.
Heathrow will be deserted, summer holidays cancelled and Ryanair aircraft moved to Europe, Mr O’Leary, who insisted the sensible decision would be to ignore the referendum result, said.
The Open Skies agreement allows EU airlines, including those registered in the UK, to operate in each other’s countries. Unlike other sectors, aviation cannot fall back on World Trade Organisation rules. That made sealing a new deal vital, the CEO of Europe’s largest airline said.
But Mr O’Leary warned that such a deal was “an impossibility” and that the “only sensible option” was for the British government to overturn the plebiscite and remain in the EU.
He told the European Parliament’s Transport and Tourism Committee in Brussels, “There is a real prospect, and we need to deal with this, that there are going to be no flights between the UK and Europe for a period of weeks, months beyond March 2019.
“There is not going to be an interim agreement, there is not going to be a legal basis, we will be cancelling flights, we will be cancelling people’s holidays for summer of 2019.”
March 2019 is the deadline for Britain to exit the EU. If a Brexit deal has not been finalised by that point, Britain will leave without an agreement – the so-called “hard Brexit”.
The European Commission, which is handling the Brexit negotiations on behalf of the EU, has refused to discuss anything until a settlement on citizens’ rights and the Brexit bill is reached. The second round of talks will be held in Brussels next week.
Aviation will not wait until March 2019, Mr O’Leary said. A clear legal framework was needed by September 2018.
Speaking at the same session, Willie Walsh, CEO of International Airlines Group and former British Airways chief, said the EU and UK should sign comprehensive air transport agreements at the same session.
“With policy support it ought to be relatively straightforward to agree a deal on aviation that will be ready when the UK leaves the EU,” he said.
Mr O’Leary said, “I think that’s an impossibility because there is no goodwill in Europe towards Britain.
“The French and the Germans, when they have the opportunity to stick one into the British, they like nothing better.”
“This is going to be a real mess,” Mr O’Leary said, before adding, “Brexit will be one of the great economic suicide notes in history.”
“By September 2018 when your average British voter is sitting down to work out where he is going on his holidays in 2019, the two options he will have are to drive to Scotland or get a ferry to Ireland,” he told MEPs.
The outspoken airline boss, who campaigned for Remain, added, “The sensible outcome here is to ignore the plebiscite of 12 months ago, stay in Europe and continue to benefit from Open Skies.”
Mr O’Leary said, “We’ll be taking a lot of aircraft out of the UK in the April of 2019 and reallocating them to European regional airports and they’ll be seeing a lot more growth than they’ll know how to handle.
“Although Heathrow, thankfully, will be empty probably for a period of months.”
Mr O’Leary attacked the British government for not having a “Plan B” and for sticking to its red lines on the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice and EU rules of free movement on people.
“There’s nobody in the UK government that has a clue how to do a deal. They don’t even know what the hell it is they want other than they want to leave the ECJ’s jurisdiction.”
He claimed one senior Brexit minister had told him the lost European airline traffic could be made up through a bilateral agreement with Pakistan.
The low-cost airline boss warned that although Britain would suffer “much more”, jobs would also be lost in the European airport and tourism sectors.