Author Interview: Chris Cleave On 'Brexit': 'We've Just Shot Ourselves In Both Feet' Younger Britons overwhelmingly voted to stay in the European Union, while most older voters supported leaving. The British novelist says the results don't bode well for his children's future.
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Novelist Chris Cleave On 'Brexit': 'We've Just Shot Ourselves In Both Feet'

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Novelist Chris Cleave On 'Brexit': 'We've Just Shot Ourselves In Both Feet'

Novelist Chris Cleave On 'Brexit': 'We've Just Shot Ourselves In Both Feet'

Novelist Chris Cleave On 'Brexit': 'We've Just Shot Ourselves In Both Feet'

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/483499775/483499776" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

Writer Chris Cleave says the U.K. is "a smaller island that needs friends." James Emmett/Courtesy of ChrisCleave.com hide caption

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James Emmett/Courtesy of ChrisCleave.com

Writer Chris Cleave says the U.K. is "a smaller island that needs friends."

James Emmett/Courtesy of ChrisCleave.com

The United Kingdom's vote to leave the European Union has exposed a generational divide. A poll by Lord Ashcroft found that 73 percent of voters between 18 and 24 years old voted to remain part of the EU, while 60 percent of voters age 65 and over voted to leave.

The older demographic may have won the vote, but it will be the younger Britons who will have to live longer with the results.

The British novelist Chris Cleave, author of Everyone Brave is Forgiven, was disappointed by the outcome.

"There's almost an Arthurian idea that now we've voted to become independent, some chalice, some grail will appear above the nation and lead us on to a glorious future," the writer tells NPR's Scott Simon. "But I think it is just that: It's a fantasy."

Cleave talked more about the reasons he thinks Britons chose to leave the EU and about how Brexit will impact his children's future.

Interview highlights contain some extended, Web-only answers.


Interview Highlights

On why he voted to remain in the EU

Because I am sane. I completely believe in the European project. I think it gives us stability, it gives us strength, it gives us the opportunity to move around between all of the member nations. And I think, to draw an equivalent with the United States, one of the things that makes your country a great one is that mobility. So if you are dissatisfied with your life in one place, you can pick it up and go to where the opportunity is. And that's what keeps an economy dynamic. It's what keeps people meeting each other, it's what brings new skills to the party and that's what Europe is.

And to vote to leave it is an extraordinary thing to do for a tiny island with arguably diminishing global influence and an increasing balance of payments deficit. It's a very crazy thing to do to leave your biggest trading partner.

On whether remaining in the EU would have been better for younger people with an education than older people who feel they have fewer prospects

I think being open to one's neighbors works if you've got the confidence to bet on yourself ... [and] welcome an incomer and not feel threatened by them. And yes, that's easier to do when you're young because you've got nothing to lose. All you've got to gamble on is your own energy and your own strengths. So yes, I think there's a sense in which it profits the young to be open to the world.

However, I don't see this as a young vs. old divide, and I don't write off the older generation of British people. I know so many of them who voted to remain in Europe and I know so many of them who, even though they voted on the other side, are not bad people. When you're talking about older people, you're talking about people who have children and grandchildren that they care about. I'm not accusing them of being selfish or of voting selfishly, but I do think it's regrettable the way it's exposed this big split in the country.

On whether there's a strain of British character that does not feel European, because of their role in the world wars

Well I think that the generation who fought [World War II] are largely passed now. My grandfather who fought in the war — who fought alongside a lot of people from Australia, from Canada, from America, from New Zealand, for the liberation of Europe — he died last year, and I can't speak for him and I can't speak for that generation.

All the subsequent generations have profited from the struggle that they fought to bring Europe back together, and the struggle that they fought after the war to unify Europe and keep it together and keep it peaceful. So I don't go for the argument that there's something spiritually British about that independence.

I think it is a big fantasy that currently holds sway amongst a large part of the British population. There's almost an Arthurian idea that now we've voted to become independent, some chalice, some grail will appear above the nation and lead us on to a glorious future. But I think it is just that: It's a fantasy.

On breaking the Brexit news to his children

I have three children. This morning I had to break the news to them of what had happened at the kitchen table. I just told them simply and clearly that this choice had been made that would affect them for the rest of their lives.

They understood that this was important and they understood, I think for the first time, that their lives were going to be a little bit more difficult now. ...

They're going to have to try a bit harder and I think that's probably going to be the message that Britain comes through this with. We are now going to have to try a lot harder because we've just shot ourselves in both feet.