A former EU official, and now leading trade lawyer, has challenged Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary’s view that flights to and from Britain are under risk if there’s a hard Brexit.
Mr O’Leary told a briefing in Dublin last week that there is a real danger that Britain won’t be covered by Open Skies after March 2019, adding: “It’s all great talking about controlling your borders but when that means you have to go on your holidays in Scotland instead of Spain or Italy or Greece it might soften their cough a little bit.”
But lawyer Philip Torbol, a partner at K&L Gates in Brussels, while admitting that “the negotiations will be tough” and “there could be conditions that inadvertently affect travel in terms of higher prices” … “it’s hard to see flights stopping. If the EU becomes unreasonable as a bloc, some countries will go it alone. Spain will say: ‘We don’t want to lose these tourists [from Britain’.”
He added that the election in Britain “is a sign Theresa May knows she might come up with not such a good deal. She wants to buy some time.”
Mr Torbol was speaking a law seminar in London organised by British travel agents group Abta. His more positive outlook was backed by Monarch Group boss Andrew Swaffield, who told the seminar: “Air passengers are not a constituency any political party wants to say to: ‘You can’t go on holiday’.”
Michael O’Leary warned last week that Europe – and airlines with little British business such as Lufthansa and Air France – could play hard ball, and Ryanair could have to move its 85 aircraft based in Britain to other European bases.
But another lawyer, Claire Ingelby, director of London-based MB Law, told the seminar: “There is an underlying confidence that a solution will be found.”
Torbol argued: “Tourism is an area where nobody has any interest in making life difficult for each other. In general, we don’t expect that this is going to be an area where tourists are going to be held hostage in a difficult negotiation. There will be some issues for providers but for distributors there will be very little disruption.”
He said that Britain was unlikely to remain in the European Common Aviation Area, as this requires staying in the EU’s Single Market. “If there is no agreement by March 2019 without any transitional agreement, then UK airlines will be grounded – or at least not flying to the EU – but that’s not going to happen,” he added.
But Abta director of public affairs Alan Wardle said he was more “cautious” – and backed Michael O’Leary’s view that travel needs to be a key priority in the Breat-imeacht negotiations between London and Brussels.
“We should not be complacent and we need to remind politicians about the impact of what could happen. We need to ensure that consumers can continue to travel as freely as they have been doing.”