Britain matches EU offer to maintain flights in no-deal Brexit scenario

An EasyJet plane prepares to land at Britain's Gatwick Airport near London.
An EasyJet plane prepares to land at Britain's Gatwick Airport near London.PHOTO: AFP

LONDON (REUTERS) - Britain said on Thursday (March 7) that flights to and from the European Union would continue after Brexit, even if it leaves without a deal, as it agreed to match an offer by the European Union to protect flying rights.

The Department for Transport said the government was still working to secure a withdrawal and transition deal with Brussels but that as part of its preparations for all eventualities, it had agreed to reciprocate EU plans.

The EU executive has proposed allowing British airlines to fly to and from EU airports for 12 months after March 29, assuming Britain offers equivalent rights to EU airlines.

Britain said on Thursday for the 12-month period it intended to grant EU air carriers a level of access to the UK at least equivalent to the rights that would be granted to UK airlines under the EU's regulation.

"This includes traffic rights, ownership and control, leasing of aircraft, cooperative marketing arrangements and fair competition," the transport department said.

It would also go further and allow member state airlines to operate wholly within the UK for the IATA summer season 2019, which ends on Oct 27, to maintain connections between regional bases.

On Wednesday, major airline bosses said that while they found the politics of Brexit frustrating, they had confidence there would be no disruption to flights around Britain's scheduled departure on March 29.

"This gives passengers and cargo operators the certainty and confidence that they can continue to fly as normal after the UK has left the EU," said Tim Alderslade, chief executive of industry body Airlines UK.

Britain also said it would take a more relaxed approach to ownership and control rules for airlines.

Airlines that will no longer be majority-owned by EU nationals once Britain leaves the bloc face the threat of losing their right to fly within the EU after Brexit due to share ownership rules.

But Britain said that UK nationals would continue to be treated the same as EU nationals for the duration of the agreement.

Transport minister Chris Grayling said that "liberal, reciprocal market access" was in the best interest of EU countries and the UK in the longer term as well.

"We will move swiftly to propose negotiations on this basis in the event that the UK leaves without a withdrawal agreement,"he said in a statement.