Ryanair chief threatens to ground aircraft and urges Brexit ‘rethink’

Ryanair is widely reported to be threatening to ground aircraft after the UK withdraws from the European Union to persuade voters to “rethink” Brexit.

Chief executive Michael O’Leary said he wants to “create an opportunity” by making people realise they are “no longer going to have cheap holidays”.

He told an audience of airline leaders at the Airlines for Europe (A4E) summit in Brussels: “I think it’s in our interests – not for a long period of time – that the aircraft are grounded.

“It’s only when you get to that stage where you’re going to persuade the average British voter that you were lied to in the entire Brexit debate.

“You were promised you could leave the EU and everything would stay the same. The reality is you can leave the EU, yes that’s your choice, but everything will fundamentally change.”

The Daily Telegraph is one of a number of newspapers reporting O’Leary’s warning that there would be a “real crisis” as flights between the UK and EU are disrupted after Brexit.

He said: “When you begin to realise that you’re no longer going to have cheap holidays in Portugal or Spain or Italy, you’ve got to drive to Scotland or get a ferry to Ireland as your only holiday options, maybe we’ll begin to rethink the whole Brexit debate.

“They were misled and I think we have to create an opportunity.”

EasyJet chief executive Johan Lundgren, who was on stage alongside O’Leary, interrupted him to say: “If you start grounding your planes, I’m flying.”

Lufthansa chief executive Carsten Spohr added: “In theory, if we could use this industry to prove to the British how wrong the decision was, that might be a good thing.”

O’Leary has repeatedly warned that airlines will be forced to cancel post-Brexit services from March 2019 if no agreement is reached in the Brexit negotiations by September, because schedules are planned about six months in advance.

Transport secretary Chris Grayling said in January that he is confident flights will not be grounded because “it’s in the interests of everyone” to maintain the open market for aviation.

Meanwhile, industry association Airlines UK remains confident that a new transatlantic open skies pact will be signed to maintain flights after Brexit.

Responding to press speculation about air services between the UK and US following Brexit, chief executive Tim Alderslade said: “UK airlines fully expect that the UK and US Governments will sign an open and liberal agreement – including on ownership and control – that will allow UK carriers to continue to serve the US following our departure from the EU.

“Separately, airlines will continue to support ministers in reaching a deal with the EU that is in everyone’s interest – providing for open competition between carriers and as liberal ownership and control rules as possible.

“As the Chancellor set out, we also want to see an agreement on the implementation phase agreed as early as possible and ideally at the March Council.

“It is essential that clarity can be provided to both consumers and airlines through to at least December 2020.

“Subsequently, agreement is vital on a comprehensive EU-UK aviation agreement that protects market access to, from and within the EU and – like other air services agreements – can be split off from the main trade deal.

“Further clarity from the government on its negotiating stance – over and above the extremely positive statement made last week by the prime minister on the UK wishing to remain a member of the European Aviation Safety Agency and wanting a continuation of air services – would be welcome also.”

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