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Brexit: Politics and finances intertwined like never before

Well, that was a fun 10 days. The political and economic turbulence buffeting the UK at the end of June has been fascinating to watch but concerning for personal finances.

Whether it is the wild fluctuations of the FTSE 100 and 250, tumbling Sterling or a likely summer interest rate cut, IFA clients have a thirst for information.

Periods of great uncertainty are always a boon for advisers who can earn their salt by attempting to chart a path through hazardous financial times.

Here is the key point to recognise: never before has economics been so reliant on politics. At midnight on Thursday 23 June, initial voting from Sunderland showed a possible Leave victory and sent Sterling plummeting at its fastest ever rate. Fastest ever drop.

Never before has 150,000 votes from the north-east rocked trillions of dollars in global markets. It shows the strange times we live in.

Previously, IFAs could only pay attention to budgets or changes to pension or mortgage rules but now, almost every aspect of government matters.

In the past, changes in government or prime minister have been greeted by a mere shrug from markets. Tony Blair handing over to Gordon Brown was barely met with a blip on Bloomberg screens.

Not anymore. The Tory leadership election is being watched closely by market traders and advisers should be ready.

There are five candidates for prime minister and Tory MPs vote for their leader. During each round the bottom candidate will be eliminated and vote re-allocated to other candidates. The final top two put to an open vote of 150,000 Conservative party members by 9 September. It will be a quick race.

This matters for financial markets more than usual because of the radically different visions being offered by the candidates. Frontrunner Theresa May, who backed remain in the referendum, backs Britain remaining in the single market while her closest challengers Michael Gove and Andrea Leadsom, key Brexit supporters, do not.

Stephen Crabb, another candidate, also backs single market access as a red line while Liam Fox, the long-shot right-winger, does not.

Markets favour stability and – irrespective of long-term politics or economics – maintaining the single market is viewed as the short-term stable option by Treasury and Bank of England official as well as market traders.

The single market would allow British firms to continuing trading across the European Economic Area without tariffs and barriers. Negotiations would establish what form that would take.

That means any summer polling that shows growth in support – or possible victory – for Leadsom and Gove will probably have a negative impact on markets.

Gove is positioning himself as the radical choice against May’s safe pair of hands pitch. That is a reasonable dividing line about how the markets and government officials will see the race as well. That is not a political point but just a sign of the uncertain waters we are now in.

And uncertainty will clearly not end with the appointment of a new prime minister. The appointment of the next cabinet – and key Brexit negotiating roles – will provoke market reactions too.

Britain’s negotiation to exit the EU will now resemble something close to Greece’s bailout negotiations. That is not to compare the economics of the situation but the politics.

Every meeting in Brussels rooms between British and EU officials will be poured over for information about where regulations will land.

In a similar vein to Greece, misinformation and panic will regularly spread through markets based on gossip and innuendo about these shadowy meetings.

Clients will fear every sharp, record-breaking tumble in the FTSE when a negotiation breaks down or off-hand remark by a previously unknown civil servant. Volatility will be a fact of life.

For example, if you have not heard of the European Parliament’s economic and monetary affairs committee (Econ) and its Italian MEP chair Roberto Gualtieri then you may do very soon.

This is one of a number of powerful committees that will have a huge impact on Britain’s negotiated exit deal for financial services and markets. The European parliament will have to approve an UK exit deal, which is why Nigel Farage’s bombastic victory lecture to MEPs last week was so ill-judged for a country attempting to win concessions.

Advisers and clients will need to have an even more open dialogue and more awareness of esoteric EU political committees or internal Conservative party election rules. These are strange times.

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