Cheap ‘booze and fags’ one of Brexit’s few benefits - Michael O’Leary

UK likely to rejoin single market in 10-15 years, says Ryanair chief executive

Cheap “booze and fags” are among Brexit’s few benefits, Ryanair chief executive Michael O’Leary has said. He predicts that Britain will ultimately pay to re-enter the EU single market.

The airline chief told a conference on Wednesday that for his industry, the return of duty free flights between the UK and Europe is one of the few benefits of Britain’s exit from the EU. “You can buy booze and fags again!” he said.

Speaking at news agency Bloomberg’s New Economy Gateway in Powerscourt Hotel, Co Wicklow, Mr O’Leary warned that there were “huge inflexibilities” in the UK labour market that airlines have raised with Britain’s parliamentary under secretary for transport, Baroness Vere.

“She has had a distinguished career running girls’ schools but aviation is not her forte,” he said.


Air travel wants more flexibility in hiring for airports and airlines and the British government to cut the cost of work visas from £3,000 (€3,407) to £1,000 or £500.

Brexit will be a net negative for the UK economy over the next three to five years, while the government would determine happened after, Mr O’Leary predicted.

He believes that in 10-15 years the UK will do a deal with the EU similar to those done by Norway or Switzerland.

“I think they will pay into a European budget. I think they will have no choice. The single market is too attractive to the UK to be excluded from,” Mr O’Leary said.

He said that everything that Brexiteers promised UK voters “the sunny uplands and ability to do trade deals everywhere were shown to be another tissue of lies”.

However, he said that Brexit should prompt the EU to improve the single market and make regulations more efficient.

Mr O’Leary pledged that Ryanair would charge back into Ukraine with two weeks of the European authorities saying it is safe to fly there again.

Ryanair was the country’s second biggest airline before the Russian invasion. Its chief executive told the audience that the carrier would be the biggest once the war ended.

It plans to open 30 routes from four Ukrainian airports to the EU, then to follow that in six to 12 months with three to four large bases.

“And we are talking to Ukrainian authorities about creating an environment and a cost agreement at which we could lead the charge of air travel into a postwar Ukrainian recovery,” he said.

Ryanair has hired about 60 Ukrainian pilots and 80 cabin crew over the last year, mainly at its Polish bases.

“We are actively looking at ways in which we can charge back into Ukraine, because it will need a lot of redevelopment,” said Mr O’Leary.

He said the Russians would probably blow up bridges on their way out of the country but predicted that once it was safe to return, Ukraine would offer a huge opportunity to European businesses.

Mr O’Leary once again criticised the EU’s environmental taxes on aviation, which add to the cost of short-haul journeys while exempting long-haul flying, which is responsible for 55 per cent of the industry’s emissions in Europe.

“So poor people going on their family holidays are paying all the taxes. Of course there should be environmental taxes, but let’s make sure the rich business people travelling from China and America are paying their fair share,” he said.

Barry O'Halloran

Barry O'Halloran

Barry O’Halloran covers energy, construction, insolvency, and gaming and betting, among other areas