By Jennifer McKiernan, Press Association Political Staff
Transport Secretary Chris Grayling has given Parliament a “categorical assurance” that planes will not be grounded post-Brexit.
The statement came despite warnings from Whitehall two weeks ago that passengers could face flight disruption in the event of a no-deal Brexit, and similar warnings from the Irish aviation chief.
Labour MP Lilian Greenwood, former shadow transport secretary, accused Mr Grayling of “mishandling” the issue, since his first assurances in 2016 that planes would not be grounded.
The MP for Nottingham South said: “A year later there was no evidence of progress and he assured us there was no danger of planes being grounded by a no-deal Brexit.
“Another year on and it’s clear from the Government’s own technical notices that this is a real possibility.
“How can we reach any other conclusion than that this matter has been badly mishandled?”
Mr Grayling said Ms Greenwood has “got this completely wrong” and planes would still take off after Brexit.
He said: “There is nothing the Government has said or done to imply that planes will be grounded or there will be no flights after we leave the EU.
“I give this House categorical assurance flights are going to continue.”
The Transport Secretary also attacked Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary, who has repeatedly warned of flights being grounded if an aviation deal is not reached.
Mr Grayling said: “Interestingly, those in the aviation industry who have been most vociferous about the risk of flights being grounded are now selling tickets for next summer and expanding the number of routes from the UK to the EU next summer.”
Technical notices published by the Department for Transport on September 24 warned that airlines will have to obtain individual permissions to operate between the UK and the EU in the event of no deal.
The document stated: “It would not be in the interest of any EU country or the UK to restrict the choice of destinations that could be served, though if such permissions are not granted, there could be disruption to some flights.”
The Government insists a no-deal Brexit “remains unlikely given the mutual interests of the UK and the EU”.
Luton-based carrier easyJet created an Austrian division in July 2017 to allow it to fly between EU countries after Brexit.
Flights between the UK and 17 non-EU countries, such as the US, Canada, Switzerland and Iceland, currently operate due to the UK being a member of the EU.
The UK has already reached agreements with a number of these countries and is “confident the remaining agreements will be agreed well in advance of the UK leaving the EU”.
A separate Government document warned that UK passengers may have to undergo extra security screening when changing flights in the EU.
And Michael McGrail, chairman of the Irish Aviation Authority (IAA), said if the UK crashes out of the EU next March there would be a practical danger that flights to the UK would come to a halt.
In his evidence to Ireland’s Transport, Tourism and Sport Committee on September 26, Mr McGrail spoke of the challenges the aviation industry faces in the wake of a hard Brexit, saying the implications would start from midnight on March 29, the date the UK leaves the EU.
Labelling the comments “bizarre”, Best For Britain supporter Daniel Zeichner said it seemed Mr Grayling had not even read his own advice and this was “the latest Grayling foot-in-mouth moment”.
The Cambridge Labour MP said: “No-one is going to believe failing Grayling’s brazen assertion this morning, when it is clear that no planes in the air is a real risk if no deal is reached.
“Chris Grayling cannot run a bath, let alone anything else. His assurance is not worth a jot.
“Yesterday the head of the National Audit Office, Sir Amyas Morse, rejected claims that it was ‘implausible’ to suggest flights could be halted. Who are most people going to believe?”