After Brexit: purgatory, not hell

UK assets would only be for the most risk-addicted in an Out vote
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No one can be sure how markets would react to an Out vote. The consensus calls for hell: wolves in the street, baked beans for currency and London flats going for a song. Do not be surprised if matters prove calmer, however. The pound will fall, but free floating currencies are meant to from time to time. The FTSE 100 could drop 5 per cent, but so it has a dozen times this century, without a single wolf bite.

In which case, panic over? Hardly. UK assets would still be only for the most risk-addicted. Too much remains up in the air. After an Out vote, someone will be needed to negotiate Britain’s messy withdrawal. Absent the prime minister — who vows to stay but may not have the choice — politics will be bereft of grown-ups. The chancellor will be just as doomed, and the country spared the ordeal of the emergency, deflationary budget he threatened. But this leaves a growing deficit yet to be tackled by his untested successor.

Amid the wreckage of so many careers, pressure will grow for a general election, which it is possible that a divided government would lose. The opposition leader is a proud socialist. Even if the Tories stay in power, whoever rules will probably come from the Leave side. That camp spent the campaign scorning the civil service and the Bank of England, which would play a vital role in any renegotiation. The talks will be difficult, long and multi-sided. It is not just a matter of the UK and Europe. The domestic politics of the 27 countries with a say in the matter will be involved. Several million people — Britons abroad, Europeans in the UK — will be unsure of their status.

The Treasury estimated the damage that would follow an Out vote: GDP down 3.5 per cent, unemployment up half a million, house prices down a tenth. This analysis excluded other risks such as stress to the financial system, global economic weakness, the purgatory of renegotiation dragging on without result. Friday could be a long, confusing day and investors may have to get used to it.

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