Ryanair Wades Into Irish Brexit Row, Predicts May Victory

(Bloomberg) -- Ryanair Holdings Plc Chief Executive Officer Michael O’Leary waded into the row over the U.K.’s Brexit logjam, saying controversy over the so-called Irish backstop has been exaggerated.

The backstop, which keeps the U.K. in a customs union with the European Union unless a future trade deal makes border checks unnecessary, won’t be a problem so long as Britain moves ahead and negotiates such an arrangement, the Irishman said in an interview on Wednesday.

Ryanair Wades Into Irish Brexit Row, Predicts May Victory

“The Northern Ireland border is not the issue it’s painted to be,” he told Bloomberg TV in Brussels. “You can’t come back to a hard border in Ireland and the backstop is a sensible protection. The Brexiteers can remove it at a stroke of their pen by doing a trade deal with the Europeans. Get on and do it.”

O’Leary, an outspoken anti-Brexit campaigner in the run up to 2016’s vote who claimed it would ground flights and force Britons to holiday by bus and ferry in Scotland and Ireland, is less concerned about events immediately after March 29 now that the prospect of a no-deal split appears to have receded. He predicted that opponents of Prime Minister Theresa May’s agreement with the EU will fall into line and back the deal in Parliament.

“I’m marginally more optimistic now,” he said. “The mood music in London looks like they’re going to vote for Theresa May’s deal. At least we have some certainty through 2019 and that’s a welcome development.”

O’Leary, whose company is the third biggest on the Irish stock exchange but counts Britain as its top market, said an agreement could still amount to “kicking the can down the road” if subsequent trade talks don’t move faster than the exit negotiations. “The same people who have failed to deliver in the last 2 1/2 years are going to be expected to negotiate a trade deal with the EU in the next 21 months,” he said. “I don’t think it will happen.”

The CEO criticized other company chiefs, who he said had generally “kept their heads down during the Brexit referendum” and are only now waking up to the reality of the schism as jobs and investment exit the U.K.

O’Leary said the British government needs to actively reassert the importance of business and took a swipe at Brexit advocate and former foreign secretary Boris Johnson’s dismissal of corporate concerns last year.

“We need to move away from the Johnson epithet of ‘flip business’,” he said. “Anyone who runs around saying to hell with business is doomed to fail.”

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