Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary has rubbished Government claims it will secure favourable trade deals post-Brexit, insisting the UK will be “screwed” in negotiations.
The outspoken Remain campaigner said most of the Cabinet did not have a clue what Brexit will look like, and described predictions of positive agreements as “arrogant nonsense”.
“I have no faith in the politicians in London going on about how ‘the world will want to trade with us’. 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.”
Expressing concern about the economic impact of Brexit during a press event in Belfast, Mr O’Leary also poured scorn on hopes of achieving good trading terms with the remaining EU states.
“Nobody in the airline industry knows what the outcome of Brexit is, which puts us in exactly the same situation as most of the cabinet of the Government of the UK, since they haven’t a clue either,” he said.
The high-profile entrepreneur added: “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’.
“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.”
Mr O’Leary said Ryanair intended to pivot business away from the UK in the next 18 months, as the carrier waited to see the outworking of Brexit.
But he expressed hope that, long term, the airline industry would absorb the impact of the UK leaving the European Union.
Launching Ryanair’s 2017 summer schedule for Northern Ireland, Mr O’Leary reiterated his call for air passenger duty (APD) to be completely scrapped in the region.
The airline recently dropped two of its four routes out of City of Derry Airport – London Stansted and Faro.
Explaining the move, he said through most of January this year the average fare paid by customers on the Stansted route was less than the APD tax of £13.
“That’s why we can’t continue to sustain a route like that, where we are not even covering the local taxes here, never mind making a contribution to Ryanair’s own operating costs,” he said.
He warned that the two remaining services from Londonderry, Liverpool and Glasgow, may ultimately be moved to its main base in Northern Ireland at Belfast International.
He said it was a “damning indictment” on local tourism policy that two million Northern Ireland travellers chose to fly out of Dublin airport, where there is no similar passenger duty, rather than fly from Belfast or Londonderry.
He called on the Stormont Executive to take responsibility for APD and scrap it, insisting it was a bigger problem for the Province than Brexit.
Mr O’Leary, who said he would have based another aircraft in Belfast if Brexit had not happened, also questioned the power-sharing administration’s decision to pay United Airlines a £9 million subsidy to continue its Belfast to Newark service, and the £7 million it pumped in to rescue the troubled City of Derry Airport.
“If the Northern Ireland Executive wants to do something useful, rather than giving £9 million of a subsidy to United Airlines, who will disappear the day the subsidy is gone, or pumping £7 million into Derry – which we will welcome, we think it’s good for Derry, it just won’t deliver any traffic up there – work instead to reduce or eliminate APD up here, and then allow the airlines and airports to work together to bring huge visitor numbers,” he said.