"It's like Dad's Army": Michael O'Leary criticises government for "lunatic optimism" over Brexit

Rebecca Smith
O'Leary's still unimpressed with the government over Brexit
O'Leary's still unimpressed with the government over Brexit (Source: Getty)

Nobody could ever accuse Michael O’Leary of being bland.

The Ryanair boss was vocal about his concerns ahead of Brexit and now he's speaking out once more over how the government is handling Britain’s departure from the European Union.

Speaking at the Airport Operators Association’s annual conference, he criticised the government again for its approach and reaffirmed Ryanair's plans to move growth away from the UK - most will go towards Germany and Eastern Europe. O'Leary said “the UK is not attractive”, as it is lacking direction and is a turn-off with its high air passenger duty (APD) too.

Earlier this month, Ryanair announced it was opening a base at Frankfurt Airport – the first of the low-fare airlines to open at Germany’s biggest airport.

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

Read more: Ryanair boss wants Theresa May to stop "faffing around" in India

"It’s like Dad’s Army going off to war here," he added. "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."

As businesses continue to claim the need for a transitional exit, O’Leary said the UK is about to “walk off a cliff” by leaving the EU. And despite a meeting with Brexit secretary David Davis last week to discuss the industry's concerns with a range of representatives from the likes of easyJet and Heathrow, the Ryanair boss was unmoved.

"It was exactly what we expected, politicians making lots of warm noises, but no specifics," he said. "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 or how they're going to negotiate the issue."

Yesterday, transport secretary Chris Grayling said “I can give that assurance”, when asked if aviation would be prioritised among negotiations.

Grayling said: “I think the prospects for UK airports are extremely bright; in fact I think they’re actually brighter as a result of the exit vote.”

Read more: Grayling to demand better UK links from new Heathrow runway

He also said Britain held a strong hand in the matter. “Other countries want to do business with us; they want to do business with British airlines and airports too," he said. "That’s not going to change when leave the European Union.”

But O’Leary feels the UK has a weaker hand in Brexit negotiations than the government keeps saying, and Europe will likely want to set a deterrent for other countries in the Brexit deal. He said “the first thing the EU will do” is tell the UK if it wants to stay in the Open Skies agreement, it has to accept free movement of people.

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