Ryanair boss Michael O'Leary has rubbished the UK government's claims it will secure favourable trade deals post-Brexit, insisting Britain will be "screwed" in negotiations.
The outspoken anti-Brexit campaigner said most of the British cabinet did not have a clue what Brexit would look like, and described predictions of positive agreements as “arrogant nonsense”.
“I have no faith in the politicians in London going on about how ‘the world will want to trade with us’. The world will want to screw you – that’s what happens in trade talks. They have no interest in giving the UK a deal on trade.”
Mr O’Leary also outlined how Ryanair was to expand its operations at Belfast International Airport with another aircraft and by adding 10 routes.
He said the new routes from the North were likely to deliver 1.1 million additional passengers each year, which in turn would support 800 jobs at Belfast International Airport.
However, Mr O’Leary also said the Brexit decision could cost the North further investment.
He hinted that Ryanair’s operations at the struggling City of Derry Airport were likely to be further scaled back following Ryanair’s decision to axe its flights to London Stansted and its summer Faro services from next March.
In Belfast on Tuesday for the launch of Ryanair’s summer 2017 schedule, Mr O’Leary took another opportunity to criticise the Northern Ireland Executive for failing to act on airport passenger duty, a tax charged on every air passenger departing from a UK airport.
He said if the Executive had scrapped the duty instead of giving the Derry airport £7 million of financial support then Ryanair would not be planning to remove flights from Derry next year and could have potentially doubled the number of passengers flying with Ryanair to the North.
Mr O’Leary also castigated the Executive for the £9 million package it agreed with American airline United to safeguard the Belfast to New York route. United had threatened to axe the only direct air service between the North and the US during the summer until the Executive stepped in.
According to Mr O’Leary, the financial bailouts to both Derry airport and United could have been better spent scrapping the airport passenger duty.
He said the fact two million passengers from the North chose to travel to Dublin to fly from an airport in the Republic – where there is no equivalent duty – underlined his case.
During his visit to Belfast he also caught up with local business leaders at the Confederation of British Industry’s annual lunch at Titanic Belfast, where he predicted that any hopes of positive UK trade deals were likely to fare as well as the ill-fated ship that sailed from Belfast.