Tuesday 28 March 2017

UK will be 'screwed' in post-Brexit trade talks - O'Leary

Ryanair chief executive Michael O'Leary at the press conference at Titanic Belfast
Ryanair chief executive Michael O'Leary at the press conference at Titanic Belfast

John Mulgrew

RYANAIR boss Michael O'Leary - who campaigned for UK voters to shun Brexit - insisted yesterday that the British government will be "screwed" in negotiations with the European Union.

"The European Union is not going to make it easy for the UK. All this kind of arrogant nonsense in London - 'we're the fifth biggest economy in the world, they'll give a good deal...they won't," he told an audience at a Confederation of British Industry (CBI) event in Belfast.

"The European countries are paranoid about being seen to be tough on the UK, because if they are not tough on the UK, the right-wing parties in most of those countries, in Germany, in France, in Holland, will be next.

"Why would you be a member of the European Union if you can have control over your borders? You wouldn't.

"So if the UK gets a good deal, the European Union breaks up, and they care less about the UK than they do about protecting and keeping the European Union together."

He also rubbished London's claims that it will secure favourable trade deals, insisting the UK will be "screwed" in talks. He said most of the British cabinet did not have a clue what Brexit will look like, and said predictions of positive agreements were "arrogant nonsense".

"I have no faith in the politicians in London going on about how 'the world will want to trade with us'," the airline boss argued at the event at the Titanic centre in the city. "The world will want to screw you, that's what happens in trade talks," he said.

"They have no interest in giving the UK a deal on trade."

Turning his attention to Ireland, he said Ryanair would have added a fourth plane to Belfast if the UK hadn't voted for Brexit. "We were certainly planning to put a fourth aircraft in to Belfast International. We have been made nervous by Brexit," he said.

"The challenge for us is if you put that fourth aircraft in to Belfast and we find next year, tor two years the UK leaves the EU and we are no longer free to fly...if there is a hard border...then we are not free to fly."

"Belfast to anywhere in Europe, we are not free to fly into Belfast, Liverpool or London."

Mr O'Leary also argued that Stormont is "throwing good money after bad" by bailing out Northern Ireland's direct flight to New York.

The Stormont Executive is part-funding a £9m package to keep United's Belfast to Newark route - the North's sole transatlantic route. "If it were going to encourage United to commit here for a 10-year period it would fine," he said.

"But you are essentially paying about £160 for every return ticket on that route, and the minute the government here decides, 'look, we can't keep subsidising this', United is going to cut the route."

"They acted on APD [UK air passenger duty] on the transatlantic routes. But then they throw more good money after bad, they subsidise."

And Mr O'Leary also warned that it is likely to eventually pull out of City of Derry airport entirely, taking out its remain Liverpool and Glasgow routes.

Mr O'Leary said the scrapping of APD would be "huge" and could double the number of passengers flying in to Belfast through Ryanair.

He said a combined £16m aimed at boosting City of Derry airport and subsidising the United Belfast to Newark route could be better spent on dealing with the loss of APD.

In 2011, the 'Belfast Telegraph' revealed that the Newark service has been saved, after APD on long-haul flights from Northern Ireland was scrapped. Mr O'Leary said if the Executive had removed the £13-a-flight duty, Ryanair would not have cut its to Stansted flights, which he said remains a "huge" issue.

Speaking about the United route, he said: "They throw more good money after bad."

"That 1.1 million passengers would double to 2 million, just from Ryanair, if APD was scrapped. The spend from those various visitors over here would be a multiple of the APD."

Irish Independent

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