Ryanair chief executive Michael O'Leary today acknowledged a "somewhat stark" situation as the UK moves towards its exit from the European Union, and highlighted that the Irish carrier's ownership structure would need to be addressed in the event of a "hard Brexit".
Speaking in Brussels as the airline launched several Belgian routes, O'Leary said: "It appears to me that the Europeans, on the prompting of the Germans and the French, will insist on a strict application of the ownership rules."
He notes that "about 60-65%" of Ryanair's shareholding would be non-EU after a hard Brexit.
In such an outcome – where the UK effectively becomes a third-party state with no continuing access to the EU's common aviation area – majority UK-owned airlines would theoretically lose the right to serve EU destinations.
Ryanair would be faced with two options, O'Leary suggests: it could restrict the voting rights of its non-EU shareholders, or it could force them to sell their shares.
"We won't know until we get much closer to the date of the eventual Brexit termination," O'Leary adds.
The UK government has insisted it wants to retain a close aviation relationship with the EU post-Brexit and stated there will be no disruption to services. As with most issues relating to the UK's exit from the EU, however, detailed plans either do not exist or are being kept under wraps during the negotiation process.
O'Leary describes Brexit as "the stupidest idea known to humankind – the first time in history people have voted to get poorer or be less well off, despite the rantings of the Daily Mail and some of those other people". He believes the UK's decision to leave the EU could still be reversed, however.
"I think there's a real prospect that the closer we get to the real Brexit termination… that people in the UK will reconsider their position," he says.