Brexit: Government 'acting like Dad's Army' says Ryanair boss Michael O'Leary

Country is about to 'walk off a cliff' and ministers' 'lunatic optimism' is similar to that of incompetent geriatric television characters, airline chief executive says

Neil Lancefield
Tuesday 22 November 2016 15:05 GMT

Ryanair boss Michael O'Leary has compared Government ministers to the characters of television sitcom Dad's Army due to their “lunatic optimism” over Brexit.

The chief executive of the Dublin-based carrier claimed the UK is about to “walk off a cliff” by leaving the European Union.

Mr O'Leary, who supported the Remain campaign during the referendum, announced earlier this month that Ryanair has cut its growth plans in the UK next year from 12 per cent to 5 per cent because of the uncertainty in relation to Brexit.

Asked what the low-cost airline would do if his expectations about the impact of the UK withdrawing from the EU turn out to be overly pessimistic, Mr O'Leary replied: “If we get it wrong I'm sure we'll come charging back into the UK with more aircraft and airports doing lower cost deals.

“But frankly there's very little evidence apart from some mildly lunatic optimism over here that it will be all right on the night.

“It's like Dad's Army going off to war here. It'll be all right Sergeant Jones. You'll just keep plodding along.

“These guys have no idea where they're going for the next two years and the problem is that in the absence of any discussions with the Europeans on Brexit they're all talking to themselves.

“They stand up in the Houses of Parliament [and say] 'We're going to do a good deal for Britain'.

“Any idea what a good deal looks like? No, they haven't a clue.”

He added: “The UK is going to walk itself off a cliff unless somebody in the Tory Party comes up with a bright idea.”

Aviation experts fear that flights by UK carriers could be grounded if the country withdraws from the single market for aviation.

The agreement, created in the 1990s, means there are no commercial restrictions for airlines flying within the EU.

Brexit Secretary David Davis and aviation minister Lord Ahmad chaired a meeting at London City Airport last week to discuss Brexit with industry leaders - including representatives from Ryanair, easyJet, Heathrow Airport and Virgin Atlantic.

Following the event, the Government issued a statement to declare that maintaining “liberal access” to European aviation markets will be a “top priority” when the UK negotiates its exit from the EU.

But speaking at the annual conference of the Airport Operators Association in west London, Mr O'Leary claimed ministers are giving similar assurances to many industries.

He said: “It was exactly what we expected, politicians making lots of warm noises but no specifics.

“Aviation will be high up on the Government's list of priorities, which is what they say to all the boys they meet these days.

“But they clearly have no priorities.

“They have no idea when or how they're going to negotiate the issue.”

According to the Department for Exiting the European Union, the UK has the “largest aviation network in Europe”, handling over 250 million passengers and 2.3 million tonnes of cargo last year - with connections to more than 370 international destinations.

The sector was worth around £20 billion to the UK economy in 2014.

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