Monday 19 March 2018

European airlines will 'screw over' UK carriers and steal their business - Ryanair boss Michael O'Leary

Ryanair boss Michael O'Leary. Photo: PA
Ryanair boss Michael O'Leary. Photo: PA

Sarah Collins in Brussels

The UK will reverse course on Brexit once flight cancellations start to hit British holidaymakers, Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary has said, predicting French and German airlines would seek to "screw over" UK carriers and steal their business.

"By September 2018, when your average British voter is sitting down to work out where he’s going on holidays in the summer of 2019, the two options he will have will be: drive to Scotland or get a ferry to Ireland," Mr O’Leary told MEPs in Brussels on Tuesday.

"It will be a couple of months before British people understand that they don’t all want to go on holidays in Ireland or in Scotland, and I think the British government will be forced to come to its senses."

"We should be optimistic. The British, I believe, will change their minds because it’s going to be very bad for them over the next six to eight months," Mr O’Leary said.

He said Brexit will be "one of the great economic suicide notes in history", and predicted Lufthansa and Air France would "see a competitive opportunity" to "screw over" UK-based carriers.

He said Ryanair was already reallocating aircraft from Britain to European regional airports to ensure unfettered access to EU and transatlantic routes under an EU-US open skies deal.

"The UK is going to have to find a way, within the next 12 months, to get back into 'open skies' or to have a bilateral with the EU27, and I think that’s an impossibility," Mr O’Leary told a European parliamentary committee on the impact of Brexit on aviation.

"There’s no goodwill in Europe towards Britain," he said. "The French and the Germans, whenever they can get the opportunity to stick one to the British, like nothing better."

Mr O'Leary said the Brexit was a "shambles" and the UK government "haven’t a bull’s notion what they’re doing" in the negotiations, recalling a senior Brexit minister telling him that an open skies deal with Pakistan could make up for the loss of access to European airspace.

"A lot of Pakistanis would like to travel to the UK; I’m not quite sure all of those Brits that like to holiday in Spain, Portugal or Greece fancy Karachi for their summer holidays," Mr O’Leary quipped.

But Willie Walsh, the head of International Airlines Group (IAG) - the holding company for Aer Lingus, British Airways and Iberia - said he was optimistic a deal would be done with the UK.

Meanwhile, finance minister Paschal Donohoe insisted Ireland would not be following the UK out of the EU, and said Brexit continued to be a "source of great sadness".

He told a committee of MEPs investigating the Panama Papers tax scandal that Irish people were "proud members of the European Union" and would remain members of the EU "family" after Brexit.

 He also responded to comments by French economy minister Bruno Le Maire that companies such as Google, Amazon and Facebook should "pay the taxes they owe in Europe".

"Taxation is a national competence," Mr Donohoe told the Irish Independent. "These companies are very, very significant employers within Ireland and they deserve to be treated fairly by tax authorities, and that is the case in Ireland."

He also reiterated his intention to merge the Universal Social Charge (USC) with PRSI, insisting it would not lead to any "significant change" in the fiscal space available for 2018.

"I’m not expecting a - and there will not be a - significant change in that space and in those resources," Mr Donohoe said, "but this is a matter that we will keep under review across the summer."

"We will make a final determination in relation to where we stand for 2018 at a later point in 2017, and I’ve already indicated clearly my commitment to the integration of the USC into the PRSI code, but that’s a very significant project that will take many budgets to implement," he said.

Mr Donohoe will outline his plans for Budget 2018 in the Dáil on Thursday.

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