A top Ryanair executive has again raised the prospect of the UK becoming a ‘no-fly zone’ after Brexit.
Neil Sorohan, the low-cost airline’s chief financial officer, warned that unless an aviation deal is struck upon leaving the EU in 2019, it could see a situation where no flights were able to take off from the UK into Europe.
He dismissed the argument that people had quite happily flown from Britain to Europe before joining the single market.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today show, he said: “Unfortunately, if we go back to the WTO, World Trade Organisation rules, there is nothing that covers such flights between the EU and the UK.
“So barring having a bilateral agreement in place there won’t be flights for a period of time and that’s why we’re very much trying to get everybody onside so that we can get everybody around the table and get this negotiated.
“If a bilateral is not agreed by the autumn of 2018, the likelihood of it being ratified through the various parliaments around Europe and in the UK by March 2019 is very slim.”
Sorohan’s comments echo those of his boss, the outspoken Michael O’Leary, who has said before that the 27-member bloc wants to see Britain “suffer” as a result of the referendum result. O’Leary has raised the threat of no flights from the UK a number of times.
Sorohan added: “If the UK government and the EU, and this is presuming we’re looking at a hard Brexit and they don’t decide to stay in open skies, which would be the ideal situation for everyone, where nothing would change.
“But let’s assume it is a hard Brexit, then we need a bilateral negotiation between the UK and the EU27.”
The Open Skies agreement allows all EU airlines and others in the “common travel area”, including Morocco, Iceland, Norway and Switzerland, to fly in and out of any country signed up to the pact. But it is linked to freedom of movement – one of Theresa May’s “red lines” in the Brexit talks.
A number of airlines, including easyJet, are looking at establishing an EU hub to get around any possible scenario that would restrict UK access to Europe post-Brexit.
O’Leary has spoken of how many Europe would “licking their lips” at making life as difficult as possible for the UK in the talk – sending out a message to any other country in the bloc which might be tempted to follow suit.
He told Irish radio station RTE1: “You have no idea how much the major airlines of France and Germany are licking their lips at the thought of stranding the British airlines… causing Ryanair significant disruption for a period of time in the summer of 2019.”
He added: “Britain is going to suffer, it’s going to be made to be seen to suffer – tells you everything you need to know about the European Union.”
In a trading statement yesterday, Ryanair said the need for clarity on the Open Skies issue before 2019 was paramount.
Without it, it said, there was likely to be severe disruption to flights out of the country for some time.