Is Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn worse than Brexit?
That is the belief of many British-based billionaires, who are reportedly thinking of packing their bags should the veteran socialist win power next month.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson, whose right-wing Conservative government is seeking re-election on December 12, has this week slammed left-winger Corbyn’s “visceral” hatred of capitalism and compared him to Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin.
The leader of Britain’s main opposition party has vowed to redistribute wealth to address inequality and renationalise assets, but his policies are widely regarded as unfriendly towards business and the rich.
“Clients, on the whole, appear more concerned about Jeremy Corbyn than about Brexit,” said John Hill, a chartered financial planner at London-based asset management firm Saunderson House.
The Guardian newspaper, citing lawyers and accountants working for some of Britain’s richest families, reported meanwhile that many people were plotting to leave “within minutes” if Corbyn wins.
After more than a decade of state-imposed economic austerity policies and flagging growth levels amid Brexit uncertainty, rising inequality is set to remain at the heart of the pre-Christmas general election.
As anticipation builds in Britain ahead of the critical vote, Labour lawmaker and loyal Corbyn supporter Lloyd Russell-Moyle stated bluntly that “I don’t think that anyone in this country should be a billionaire”.
Corbyn has pledged that an incoming Labour government under his leadership would pursue the “vested interests” of the elite.
“This election is a once-in-a-generation chance to transform our country, take on the vested interests holding people back and ensure that no community is left behind,” Corbyn said last week as he launched his election campaign.
Johnson is an Oxford University and elite Eton boys school graduate from a wealthy background.
In contrast, socialist Corbyn styles himself as anti-business and pro-worker – and came close to scoring a major election upset in 2017 when he blew up the ruling Conservatives’ working majority.
Flagship Labour policies include additional taxation on high incomes, inheritance and private education, while the party is also contemplating a ban on private jets to help combat climate change.
Johnson has argued that Corbyn’s policies would destroy the economy.
“The tragedy of the modern Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn is that they detest the profit motive so viscerally – and would raise taxes so wantonly – that they would destroy the very basis of this country’s prosperity,” the British premier wrote in an editorial on Wednesday.
Many financial experts also fret that such an approach will simply persuade the ultra-rich to either obtain non-resident status in Britain – or shift their investments into friendlier tax regimes like Monaco, Switzerland and elsewhere.
“I believe we can realistically expect a Corbyn government would trigger an exodus of the country’s most successful and wealthiest individuals who contribute significantly both directly and indirectly to the British economy,” warned Nigel Green, head of financial consultancy deVere Group.
He added that such exceptionally rich people are “internationally mobile” and would simply move – with a large knock-on effect on the public finances.
“Should these largely job and wealth-creating individuals emigrate – and according to our anecdotal evidence a high number very well could – government finances will suffer considerably because they contribute a disproportionately large amount to the state’s coffers,” Green added.
Britain has some 151 billionaires, while the richest 1,000 people have a wealth totalling a record £771 billion (US$993 billion), according to The Sunday Times newspaper’s 2019 rich list.
Corbyn last week ramped up the rhetoric against what he calls “tax dodgers, bad bosses, big polluters and billionaire-owned media”. The Labour leader singled out Ineos energy boss Jim Ratcliffe, landowner the Duke of Westminster and hedge fund manager Crispin Odey as members of what he called the “privileged elite”.
One notable critic who hit back was retail tycoon Mike Ashley, who described Corbyn as “not only a liar but clueless”.
Yet not all the business community is up in arms.
“I think a lot of us [in business] are very concerned about the regional inequalities within Britain,” noted John Mills, founder of home products empire JML.