Budget airline Ryanair has been accused of breaking election and anti-bribery laws, with a marketing campaign offering cheap flights for British ex-pats flying home to vote ‘remain’ in the referendum on European Union membership.
Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary has been outspoken in his support for the ‘Remain’ campaign. Earlier this week put his money where his mouth is, offering €19.99 cut-price seats to the UK on the 22nd and 23rd June via it’s “Fly Home to Vote Remain” marketing campaign.
Announcing the campaign, Ryanair’s Chief Marketing Officer, Kenny Jacobs said: “As an active supporter of the ‘Remain’ campaign, we are launching a €19.99 seat sale on flights to the UK on 22nd and 23rd June to allow UK citizens to fly home to vote ‘Remain’ in the Brexit Referendum.
“As the UK’s largest airline, Ryanair is absolutely clear that the UK economy and its future growth prospects are stronger as a member of the European Union than they are outside of the EU and with just 5 weeks to go, we will continue to work hard to help deliver a resounding ‘Remain’ vote on 23rd June.”
But Vote Leave, the official campaign to leave the EU, has accused Ryanair of offering voters bribes to vote in the referendum. Reporting Ryanair to the Met Police, a spokesman for the campaign said it was akin to pubs located next to polling stations offering cheap drinks to voters who voted a certain way, The Times has reported.
“That cannot have been parliament’s intention . . . and would allow the democratic process to be gravely undermined by the wealth, power and influence of multinational corporations which have a direct financial interest in preserving the corrupt regulatory system of the EU,” Vote Leave’s official two-page letter of complaint to Met Chief Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe read.
It continued: “By its discount on flights on the day before, and the day of the referendum, Ryanair is paying the expense, in part, of provision to voters in order to influence them to vote in the referendum,”
“This appears to be corrupt, since the company is offering discounts on the commercial rate to customers with the sole aim of ensuring that they vote and vote to remain in the European Union.”
O’Leary called the campaign “desperate” and responded by extending the offer to Friday 25th June.
“Ryanair’s ‘Fly Home to Vote Remain’ seat sale … fully complies with Ryanair’s policy of lowering the cost of air travel to/from the UK,” he insisted, adding: “Vote Leave must be getting really desperate if they are now objecting to low-fare air travel for British citizens.”
Scotland Yard has confirmed that they received the complaint, telling The Guardian that they are considering the contents and will respond in due course.
In February O’Leary vowed to use his company to campaign in the referendum, suggesting he may plaster his planes with remain slogans. But his campaign got off to a muddled start, as he both agreed with and then denied claims that leaving the EU would raise the cost of air travel.
“The UK government will continue to push up the cost of air travel … I would fear more from UK bureaucracy than EU bureaucracy,” he told an audience in London. But hours later he told ITV: “I don’t believe leaving the EU will cause airfares to rise.”