All change at Holyhead if no deal is landed
Air passengers on both sides of the Irish Sea would lose out should the UK crash out of the European Union, writes Colm McCarthy
Early in his premiership David Cameron despatched the Royal Air Force to enforce a no-fly zone over Libya, helping to topple the dictator Muammar Gaddafi. Things ended badly - the good guys lost the ensuing civil war. A subsequent Cameron brainwave, the 2016 Brexit referendum, is now threatening another no-fly zone, this time over the United Kingdom itself and without scrambling the RAF on this occasion. A no-deal Brexit could mean wholesale disruption to air travel and major costs for UK airlines and airports.
Air travel is important all over Europe but more so in Britain and Ireland than in the continental countries. Islands simply cannot offer the range of convenient surface alternatives. London is closer to Liverpool than Brussels, but Liverpudlians take no planes to London: there are no flights. Dublin is closer to Manchester than it is to Cork. People fly between Dublin and Manchester - there are 10 daily return flights. There are no Cork-Dublin flights: people drive, take the bus or train, as they do for a large portion of trips in continental Europe. Accordingly Brexit-induced disruption to air travel is a bigger issue for Britain and Ireland than it is for most continental European countries - the only exceptions are the Mediterranean sun destinations.
It seems to be forgotten, especially in the United Kingdom, that the ready availability of cheap and frequent air travel in Europe is an achievement, and a fairly recent one, of European Union policy. Until about 30 years ago passenger travel between Ireland and the British cities, and between Britain and nearby France, Belgium and the Netherlands, was by boat and train for all but the better off. Each country had its own national airline and they carved up the market through highly restrictive bilateral air traffic agreements. There was no Ryanair, no easyJet and the alternative to unaffordable airfares for Irish people was a rainy date with a midnight train at Holyhead. Dublin to London took 11 hours, London to Paris seven.