Michael O'Leary, CEO of Irish airline Ryanair
Photograph by Matthew Lloyd/Bloomberg/Getty
By Geoffrey Smith
August 31, 2016

The Irish government should tell the European Union to, er, go forth and multiply rather than carry out its instruction to recover over $14 billion in back taxes from Apple Inc. (aapl).

That’s the opinion, not of Apple’s general counsel in a late night bar conversation in Cupertino last night, but of Michael O’Leary, the notoriously incorrect CEO of discount airline Ryanair Plc (ryaof)

At a press conference Wednesday, O’Leary described the ruling as “bizarre,” and said it would never stand in court, according to the Irish Independent. Both the Irish government and Apple have already said they will appeal the ruling. That process is, however, likely to last several years owing to a heavy backlog of cases at the European Court of Justice.

“There are certain things Europe has no competence or rights in,” said O’Leary. “It’s one of the fundamental principles of the EU that each country has the freedom to make its own tax decisions…Frankly the Irish government shouldn’t even appeal the decision—they should just write a letter to Europe and tell them to f*** off.”

Irish Finance Minister Michael Noonan said Tuesday a challenge was needed “to defend the integrity of our tax system, to provide tax certainty to business, and to challenge the encroachment of the EU state aid rules.”

Ireland has done well over the last 30 years from its low tax rate and light-touch regulation to attract inward investment from multinationals such as Apple, giving them a “user-friendly” bridgehead in the EU’s Single Market, still the world’s largest by value. The government fears it could lose much of that investment, and thousands of jobs along with it, if it loses control of its tax code.

O’Leary has a long record of antagonizing the EU, which he has habitually accused of defending the vested interests of state-owned carriers against his airline (albeit, that hasn’t stopped Ryanair becoming the dominant player in Europe’s short-haul market).

However, he appeared to have a rare pang of regret at whipping up anti-EU sentiment earlier in the summer after realizing the damage that a British exit from the EU could do to his business. European rules only allow complete freedom of operation to airlines that have more than 50% EU ownership—something that wouldn’t be guaranteed at either Ryanair or International Airlines Group Plc (international-airlines-group), the parent of British Airways, after the U.K. leaves.

At the same press conference, O’Leary cut his forecast for Ryanair’s traffic growth in the U.K. this year to 6% from 15% previously, according to The Wall Street Journal. He also said that the company may have to cut its profit forecast due to a weak pricing environment expected over the coming winter. The Brexit vote and a series of terrorist attacks in Europe are both depressing the airline’s business.

 

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