Ryanair Says Brexit Vote Could Cause Whole of EU to Unravel

Ryanair's O'Leary Says Only Way To Reform EU Is to Remain
  • ‘Leave’ victory to mark end of European project, O’Leary warns
  • Irishman among most fervent backers of ‘Remain’ campaign

Ryanair Holdings Plc Chief Executive Officer Michael O’Leary said a U.K. vote to leave the European Union could lead the whole of the 28-nation bloc to unravel.

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Speaking one day before a referendum on a so-called Brexit, O’Leary, an Irishman who has emerged as one of the most outspoken backers of the “Remain” campaign, told Bloomberg Television that a victory for the “Leave” side could prompt a spate of further departures.

“If the U.K. leaves I think it’s inevitable that’s the end of the European project,” he said. “It will be very hard to keep the EU together, or at least the peripheral countries. The central countries -- the Germans, the Dutch, the Belgians, possibly the French -- will continue to go along, but the EU will be fatally damaged.”

For the U.K., O’Leary reckons a Brexit would trigger “chaos” for a couple of weeks, followed by years of disruption while trade agreements with the EU are renegotiated. The airline would also most likely end its expansion in the region and might cut jobs, he said.

The CEO, who favors an overhaul of the EU to make it less bureaucratic and simplify regulations, said that whatever the result of the vote Thursday the U.K. debate will have been vital “in teaching those people in Brussels a lesson.”

“There’s going to be a much stronger case for reform, where we get them back to focusing on making Europe an efficient single market and a lot less focused on political integration and jobs for the boys in Brussels,” he said.

O’Leary said that quitting the EU provides no answer to those issues and that by staying inside the bloc the U.K. could add its weight to “an appetite for reform” that already exists in Germany and Eastern Europe.

“You can’t leave the pitch and then argue which way you want the game played,” he said.

History Books

Asked whether U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron had undermined the credibility of the pro-EU argument by suggesting that a Brexit might devastate the economy, O’Leary said that the “Remain” side’s approach should be judged solely in terms of the result. “History is written by the winners,” he said.

The CEO said last month at a Bloomberg Brexit forum in Dublin that “Remain” needed to “terrify the life out of everybody that there’s a real danger the lunatics on the ‘Leave’ side are going to win.”

Ryanair, which is based in the Irish capital but counts the U.K. as its biggest market -- accounting for almost two out of every five of its passengers -- has spent about 25,000 euros ($28,000) on an anti-Brexit advertising drive.

Michael Bloomberg, the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg LP, the parent of Bloomberg News, has publicly supported the campaign to keep the U.K. in the EU.

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