Brexit: product of a benign period
Theresa May's Conservative government is increasingly coming to the view that an extended transition period will be needed for Britain's departure from the EU. The FT's political columnist Janan Ganesh tells FT editor Lionel Barber that Brexit is the child of complacency, not pain.
Filmed by Rod Fitzgerald. Produced by Dan Garrahan.
In the latest development on Brexit, Theresa May's conservative government is increasingly coming round to the view that an extended transition period will be needed for Britain's departure. So, Janan Ganesh, what accounts for this shift in tactics? Because only recently some conservatives, including those in the cabinet, were saying no deal is better than a bad deal.
Yeah, I think the awareness of some economic trouble, nothing extreme, but early signs of growth and investment being at risk in the coming years because of Britain's decision to leave has weighed on the minds of a lot of euro sceptics, and even people who are committed to leaving, and pretty strident about that are reconciled to the idea that you can leave, and set a date, and it can be a fairly extreme form of departure.
But getting from membership to non-membership can be phased over a number of years.
So no more cliff edge, as there's been a lot of talk about that.
No cliff edge, preferably no deal scenario as well. And in many ways, the only thing that went right for Theresa May in the general election that she chose to call was that it did extend this parliament to what is now five years, so she has a bit of time to play with.
You wrote a very interesting column reflecting one year on after the referendum why the British people decided to actually elect to leave the European Union.
Yeah, the column addresses why the British had chose to leave the European Union, but also why the Americans chose to vote for President Trump, and why Jeremy Corbyn's Labour Party has made huge gains recently. And I think what all of these ideas have in common is that previous generations who had been scarred by unconventional political movements, or by war, or economic upheaval were less likely to take a punt on a drastic change in government or in the governing philosophy.
They were cautious, because they'd been bruised by history. And we now have a population, and I'm a classic example of it, who've grown up with no experience of national crisis, no devaluation, no three-day week, no mass conscript war, none of the real postwar austerity, which is very severe in this country.
We've had a pretty benign 30-year period, not perfect by any means at all. There's been the crash, the Iraq War, and other troubles, but a relatively benign 30 or 40-year period. And I think that might inculcate a certain relaxation in the population, which makes them more likely to take a risk in their political choices.
Well, that's interesting. I mean you are talking by the way to someone who's suffered through the three-day week, but there we are, because the younger generation, some younger people voted to leave just in Britain, and also particularly the older generation. People that say they're protected by the triple lock on pensions and entitlements.
Yeah, the older generation, I think do have a distant memory of a pretty troubled Britain in the 1970s and before that. But even they have gone through now 35, 40 years of a pretty secure, pretty prosperous country, which has steered resources towards their generation in various forms.
And it's easy for them to take for granted all of that stuff and say, well, I can take quite a dramatic decision in my electoral choices, and vote for Brexit, and it can't possibly interrupt the pretty benign circumstances I'm used to over the past few decades. And I'm not absolutely certain that this theory that I expound is correct.
I would just say if it is the case that people voted for Brexit, and people are voting for all these unusual political phenomenons because they've experienced so much material hardship in recent years, why did not previous generations who experienced much more hardship postwar or in the 1970s vote for drastic change?
They voted for very conventional politics, the Butskellite consensus in the mid-20th century, and then the Blatcherite consensus in the 1990s. And I think it's a certain complacency, or at least excessive relaxation, that explain some of the votes we've been seeing recently.
And that's something that we'll be exploring in future conversations. Interesting, of course, that the French in voting for Macron didn't vote for the dangerous choice.
Well, you could argue that continental Europe in general has a more recent experience of the tragic, and of politics going haywire, and, therefore, they're a bit more cautious when populists present themselves for election.
Janan Ganesh, thank you so much.