Assuming Rishi Sunak does not call a spring election, the second set of polls with profound implications for the UK and its businesses will be the European Parliamentary elections on 6-9 June. Populist parties are expected to make big gains, which will alarm national governments in many of the 27-member bloc, but particularly France and Germany. Victor Orban’s populism in Hungary and Geert Wilders’s recent success in the Netherlands attest to shifts in public opinion. The risk for business in Britain is that the EU and its member governments will become more protectionist, increasingly insular on defence policy, and less likely to trade with the UK.
Next, and least predictable date-wise, is expected to be the UK general election, though the Chancellor’s decision to hold the Budget on 6 March has been seen as increasing the chances of an earlier poll. This contest is probably still most likely to occur in the autumn. It could, of course, then come either before or after the US presidential vote on 5 November. The Conservatives have been trailing in opinion polls for many months and show few signs of revival. Labour, out of power since 2010, are taking great care not to appear radical.
The US presidential election has the potential to be the most impactful of the four outlined here. The possibility that Donald Trump may return to the White House, which is self-evidently a real one, could affect economic and trade policy, the US’s approach to NATO and much more besides. Europe may find itself with a far less reliable American ally, with consequences for the EU/UK relationship.
There are also electoral contests in other countries, notably Austria, Belgium, Finland, Ghana, Mexico, Rwanda, South Africa and Venezuela which have the potential to influence policy, notably in relation to trade, in the UK. Elsewhere in England, mayoral contests take place in Greater Manchester, the West Midlands, West Yorkshire and six other combined authorities.
In short, 2024 will be a year of significant electoral uncertainty and possible change. For businesses in London and across the UK, the policy stakes will be high.