Ryanair boss attacks ‘bizarre’ UK visa rules for causing travel chaos

Michael O’Leary has clashed with Grant Shapps over the Transport Secretary’s refusal to relax immigration rules to ease travel chaos.

The Ryanair chief executive attacked the Government’s “bizarre” post-Brexit policies on foreign workers that allowed him to hire staff from Africa but not mainland Europe.

He said: “I can hire thousands of people in Portugal, in Italy, France, Germany at exactly the same wages that I’m paying in the UK and I just can’t hire them in the UK at the moment.

“And we have this bizarre situation at the moment that in the UK I can get visas to bring Moroccans to come in and work as cabin crew. But I can’t get visas for Portuguese or Italians or Slovakian youngsters. We just need a bit of more common sense and a practical approach to how we implement Brexit.”

His remarks come as airlines and airports brace for the start of the summer holidays this weekend.

Millions of families are desperate to jet off overseas, many for the first time since the start of the pandemic, but fear a repeat of chaotic scenes witnessed at airports up and down the country since Easter.

Airlines and airports have blamed each other as passengers have been forced to wait in hours-long queues, suffered last-minute cancellations, and lost luggage.

Mr Shapps has repeatedly rejected pleas from the aviation industry for emergency visas to deal with staffing shortages.

Last month the Telegraph disclosed that airlines led by Jet2 and easyJet pushed for aviation workers to be added to the shortage occupation list, which would make it easier to recruit staff from abroad.

Mr Shapps knocked back the demand, saying it was unlikely the Home Office would be prepared to make an exception for the aviation industry when other sectors were making similar appeals to their respective departments.

The one-time Tory leadership hopeful then knocked back another workaround that would have allowed an influx of foreign workers on a temporary basis, this newspaper also revealed.

Airlines had proposed issuing baggage handlers and check-in staff with temporary visas similar to those issued to fruit pickers, musicians and religious figures.

One senior source said at the time: “Aviation is also a seasonal industry and temporary visas would work very well to meet peak demand.”

Another added: “This illogical approach to labor shortfalls across the economy means that the Government has to shoulder its fair share of the responsibility for current issues despite its best efforts to deflect blame exclusively to airlines.”

Mr O’Leary told BBC Radio 4: “There are not enough people in the UK willing to do these jobs… particularly during peak periods of the summer and airports in particular. Airport handling staff and airport security staff are really struggling to recruit, particularly in the southeast, at airports like Gatwick, Heathrow and Manchester.”

Mr Shapps has stood by his decision that the Government would not pull “the lever marked more immigration” to solve airport delays.

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