This election is all about Brexit – but then what?

Restoring normal government service? Child’s play!
The next election is going to be all about Brexit. All the parties are going to pretend the vote is about all sorts of other things (austerity, the NHS, housing, education, a vague sense of what does or doesn’t count as competence and so on). But it won’t be true. Voters will be choosing between no Brexit with the Lib Dems; negotiated deal (or no deal) with the Tories; and something soft and confusing with Labour (a new softer deal, a referendum, or maybe remain). It’s going to be all about Brexit. The problem is that after the vote it won’t just be about Brexit any more.
Right now the general assumption is that Boris Johnson will win a majority, his deal will therefore become reality and some kind of normal government service will resume. We might even get a budget (I’ve never known a year without one before); some clarity on the fiscal future of the UK; and if we are very lucky indeed, some attempts to sort out problems such as our overcomplicated tax system (we talk in the magazine this week about why stamp duty really has to go).

If that happens the markets will be thrilled – sterling should soar (see Dylan Grice’s views in this week’s magazine) and domestically exposed equities should do the same (see also David Stevenson’s thoughts on the excellent investment trusts the hopeful might buy in anticipation of this result). However, this is not a given. Anyone in doubt need only ask poor Theresa May.
What if Corbyn wins?
So what if Jeremy Corbyn ends up with a majority? There’s a clue as to what the market might think in the prices of utility companies. Before Corbyn started talking about nationalisation they tended to trade on similar price/earnings (p/e) ratios to the rest of the market. Today they trade on p/es that are 30% lower. They will get cheaper.
So will the market as a whole – given that it is Corbyn’s intention to transfer 10% of all largish UK companies to the state (in what the Financial Times calls “one of the biggest state raids on the private sector to take place in a Western democracy” ever). Property prices would also be likely to follow equity prices in anticipation of Corbyn’s right-to-buy plan for tenants of private landlords.
It’s possible that these policies might turn out to be good ones. But maybe hold more cash than usual. Don’t suddenly get into the buy-to-let market. Remortgage if you can (there’s a reason searches for fixed-rate mortgages are up 32% on Experian’s reckoning). Move money out of the UK to hedge against exchange controls and be prepared to move more in the short window between Labour being elected and making real changes. Think about transferring assets to other family members to hedge against wealth taxes or the abolition of the inheritance-tax reliefs. “There will be plenty of people on the phone to their lawyers in the early hours of 13 December if Labour wins,” says Geoffrey Todd of law firm Bootle Hatfields. “Movements of capital are already prepared and they are just awaiting final approval.”
The most likely result of the election is a Tory win. But given that at the ballot box most people will be thinking about Brexit, and Brexit alone, it’s best to be ready if something different happens. And be sure to pop along to the MoneyWeek Wealth Summit on 22 November for more tips. Buy your ticket here if you’ve not already done so.

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