By James Warrington, cityam.com
Ryanair today confirmed it will block British investors from buying shares after the UK leaves the EU on 1 January.
The budget airline said UK nationals will no longer be allowed to purchase ordinary shares — a rule that already applies to all non-EU nationals.
While existing shareholders will not be forced to sell their shares, they will lose the right to attend, speak or vote at any general meeting of the company.
Ryanair said the move would ensure it remained majority EU-owned and retained full licensing and flight rights in the bloc after Brexit.
The no-frills carrier approved the plans last year, but they were subject to the final terms of a deal on the UK’s trading relationship with the EU after Brexit, which was secured last week.
Ryanair said the rules would remain in place until the board deemed that its ownership and control posed no risk to its airline licences under EU law.
Last February the Dublin-headquartered company said that while it was 55 per cent EU-owned, British shareholders at the time controlled roughly 20 per cent of its stock.
Rival airline Wizz Air today also announced similar share restrictions to address its ownership structure.
The Hungarian company said it will be 80 per cent owned by non-EU nationals from 1 January due to Brexit.
As a result, Wizz Air said it will restrict UK shareholders from voting. The firm said these restrictions will apply to roughly 60 per cent of its shares.
Both airlines have suffered a torrid year of trading as the outbreak of coronavirus and continued travel restrictions wreaked havoc on the aviation industry.
Passenger numbers for both Ryanair and Wizzair plunged 80 per cent in November after the UK was placed in a second national lockdown.
But Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary has said he expects passenger numbers to reach up to 80 per cent of pre-pandemic levels by next summer.
“It may be a footnote as far as Brexit repercussions go, but restricting the voting rights of British Ryanair shareholders and the ban on further purchases of ordinary shares, underlines how leaving the bloc has some intricate implications for financial markets,” said Susannah Streeter, senior investment and markets analyst, Hargreaves Lansdown.
“Like the many ‘i’s to be dotted and ‘t’s to be crossed as the Brexit implications are unravelled, there is speculation the new ownership rules could be relaxed, but in the meantime this is another lingering headache airlines are having to deal with amid the continuing coronavirus crisis.”