(Adds O’Leary interview)
By Natalie Thomas and Kate Holton
LONDON, June 8 (Reuters) - The United Kingdom’s coronavirus quarantine will be struck down by the courts or dropped within weeks as some of Europe’s biggest airlines prepare to file a legal challenge by the end of Tuesday, Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary told Reuters.
The 14-day quarantine for international arrivals, introduced on Monday, has led to the most vociferous clash between a major industry and Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government during the COVID-19 crisis.
By insisting on the quarantine despite public pleas from airline veterans such as IAG’s Willie Walsh and O’Leary, Britain has united some of the fiercest rivals in aviation who are already reeling from a sudden global halt in air travel.
Ryanair Group Chief Executive Michael O’Leary told Reuters he hoped a court would hear an emergency legal challenge by the end of this week to halt the quarantine - imposed just as most European countries were reopening their economies.
“I think in their heart of hearts, the government would like the courts to strike it down because it would get them off the hook,” O’Leary said in a Reuters TV interview. “I think either the courts will strike it down this week or the government will quietly drop it before the end of June.”
He said legal action, proposed by British Airways and supported by low-cost rivals Ryanair and easyJet, seeking injunctive relief has a “high likelihood of success.” Legal papers are due to be filed on Monday or Tuesday, he added.
Slow to introduce lockdown measures and with one of the highest death tolls in the world, at more than 50,000, Britain argues a quarantine is needed to prevent a second surge of COVID-19.
The government did not immediately respond to O’Leary’s remarks.
The quarantine imposes fines of up to 1,000-pounds ($1,270) for any breaches.
Ryanair, British Airways and easyJet believe the measure is ineffective as passengers can still board trains and busses once they leave an airport.
Walsh, the head of BA-owner IAG, told LBC Radio the issue could be resolved quickly if they could prove it was an irrational piece of legislation, while EasyJet boss Johan Lundgren said the three companies had a strong case.
“This is something that has been rushed through. It’s not in proportion,” Lundgren told Sky News.
The quarantine will be reviewed every three weeks, the government has said. Portugal’s foreign minister Augusto Santos Silva has said “air bridges” that allow tourists to travel between two countries without needing to quarantine are also being discussed.
O’Leary said Britons were booking outbound flights for holidays despite the quarantine, but Europeans were not coming to Britain.
$1 = 0.7895 pounds Additional reporting by Sarah Young and Estelle Shirbon; editing by Guy Faulconbridge, Jason Neely and Pravin Char