Taoiseach's Irish airspace warning to UK pie in the sky, say unionists
The Government and unionists yesterday rejected Leo Varadkar's claim that British aircraft could be barred from the Republic's airspace in the event of a no deal Brexit.
A Downing Street spokeswoman said that so-called "overflight rights" are guaranteed by international treaties rather than EU membership, and that the UK was confident of reaching a deal that included "aviation access".
She added: "It's wrong to claim that Ireland could simply stop the UK from flying over its land as a result of Brexit.
"The reason we say that is because overflight rights are not guaranteed by the EU, rather by multilateral treaty which both ourselves and Ireland have signed up to."
Speaking in Co Kerry on Wednesday, Mr Varadkar said a no deal Brexit would see Britain leave the Single European Sky programme, which co-ordinates flights, adding: "If they want their planes to fly over our sky, they would need to take that into account."
He added: "The situation at the moment is that the UK is part of the Single European Sky and if they leave the EU they are not.
"And that does mean if there was a no deal hard Brexit next March, the planes would not fly and Britain would be an island in many ways - and that is something they need to think about."
East Antrim DUP MP Sammy Wilson accused Dublin of "dreaming up new ways of intimidating the UK to stay in the EU".
He said the Taoiseach might think his "Brit-bashing" helped in his domestic electoral rivalry with Sinn Fein, and that his pro-EU rhetoric would ingratiate him with Brussels.
"However, like the SDLP, he will find out that wearing Sinn Fein clothes only plays to the electoral advantage of Sinn Fein and he will also find that as they have done with Greece, the bureaucrats in Brussels will regard a small nation like Ireland as collateral damage if they believe it is necessary to sacrifice their interests in the wider pursuit of protecting the European project," Mr Wilson added.
TUV leader Jim Allister pointed out that the Irish Government had recently signed an agreement to allow the RAF to operate over the Republic in the event of a terrorist attack.
He said: "Given that the Irish state is dependent on the RAF for its air defence in the event of a terrorist attack, it is obviously exceedingly unwise for Varadkar to pompously and arrogantly suggest that Dublin could deny civilian aircraft from the UK access to Irish airspace.
"It seems he wants to have his cake and eat it."
Trade body Airlines UK said good aviation links were "vital to the continuing success and growth of both the UK economy and that of our EU counterparts".
A spokesman added: "The sector brings value to both sides of the negotiation. That's the whole point, aviation is an economic enabler, not a British or EU export.
"Airlines continue to support the UK Government in reaching a deal that protects market access to, from and within the EU and - like all air service agreements - can be split off from the main trade deal.
"As the third largest aviation market in the world we believe this will be in the interests of EU countries like Ireland as much as the UK."