Ryanair has dismissed a claim that it has been “scaremongering” by warning that Britain leaving the EU risks major disruption to flights.

Michael O’Leary, Ryanair chief executive, claimed early this month: “The Europeans will engineer disruption.”

After meeting transport secretary Chris Grayling, O’Leary warned: “They [Europeans] have realised they can yank the tail of everyone here by delaying on flying rights. There will be big disruption up to Christmas 2018.”

He went as far as to accuse Air France-KLM and Lufthansa of having “an interest in disrupting UK flights”, saying: “There is a huge upside for France and Germany in disrupting our flights. I would be doing the same thing.”

The threat was dismissed as “scaremongering” by a senior UK aviation figure, who told Travel Weekly: “It’s not helpful. Consumers are going to be looking at this, thinking ‘We want to book holidays and flights’ and we get Europe’s largest airline in scaremongering mode.”

The same figure said: “It’s an annoyance. [But] it’s a win-win for Ryanair. If it all goes tits up, O’Leary can say ‘I told you so’. And if it all goes fine, he will say it is because of Ryanair.”

However, Ryanair hit back, insisting: “This is not ‘scaremongering’. This is genuine concern at the uncertainty which surrounds the terms of the UK’s departure from the EU in March 2019.”

A Ryanair spokesman told Travel Weekly: “While we continue to campaign for the UK to remain in the EU Open Skies agreement, we caution that should the UK leave, there may not be sufficient time or goodwill to negotiate a timely replacement bilateral [agreement].”

He said: “That could result in a disruption of flights between the UK and Europe for a period from April 2019 onwards.

“We, like all airlines, seek clarity on this before we publish our summer 2019 schedule in the second quarter of 2018.

“If we don’t have certainty about the legal basis for the operation of flights between the UK and the EU by autumn 2018, we may be forced to cancel flights and move some or all of our UK-based aircraft to Continental Europe from April 2019 onwards.”

The spokesman added: “We have contingency plans in place.”

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