The Citizens’ Assembly on Brexit: Public to debate UK’s exit terms

  • Statement from UCL’s Constitution Unit, the University of Westminster’s Centre for the Study of Democracy, the University of Southampton, and the Electoral Reform Society
  • Embargoed for 10am, 18th April 2017
  • ERS Chief Executive Katie Ghose is available for interview. Contact Josiah Mortimer, ERS Communications Officer – josiah.mortimer@electoral-reform.org.uk / 07717211630.

Leading academics and democracy campaigners are to hold a ‘Citizens’ Assembly’ on Brexit [1] this September, in a bid to ensure the public’s voices are heard in the process of Britain leaving the EU.

The project, which has just secured funding from the Economic & Social Research Council (ESRC) [2], will bring together a diverse sample of citizens to contribute to the Brexit process – and provide the first example of meaningful public deliberation on what form Brexit should take.

Citizens will engage in detailed and informed discussions to reach well thought-out conclusions, in a process organised by leading academics at UCL’s Constitution Unit, in partnership with the University of Westminster’s Centre for the Study of Democracy, the University of Southampton and the Electoral Reform Society.

Over two weekends in September – just ahead of pivotal elections in Germany which could shape the negotiations – a diverse group of voters will learn about the options for Brexit, hearing from a wide range of experts and campaigners from all sides of the debate, and deliberate on what they have heard.

Crucially, the Assembly will then agree recommendations that will be written up in a final report and presented to key decision makers at a high-profile Westminster event. 

Katie Ghose, Chief Executive of the Electoral Reform Society, said:

“This is the first real opportunity for the public to have their say on Theresa May’s Brexit plans.

“There is widespread agreement that the Brexit plans should respect and respond to public opinion – as demanded by both democratic principle and the need for broad public legitimacy. This Assembly provides a unique and innovative approach to gauging the opinions of citizens on the most pressing constitutional issue we face as a country.

“As we noted before polling day last year, public engagement in Brexit shouldn’t end on June 23rd. This project is an exciting way of continuing the public engagement we saw last year – and letting voters influence the debate.”

Principal Investigator, Dr Alan Renwick, said:

“The Citizens’ Assembly on Brexit is a chance to help to bridge the gap between the ‘52 per cent’ and the ‘48 per cent’ in the Brexit debate – and explore how deliberative democratic approaches can make that happen.

“The Brexit referendum last June was a clear example of citizen involvement in the determining the course of Britain’s constitution. This Citizens’ Assembly will provide a powerful mechanism to continue that vital involvement, giving the government a clear signal of where public opinion now sits on the form Brexit should take.”

The project team already has a great deal of expertise in running similar assemblies – having conducted the UK’s first ever assemblies on local devolution in Sheffield and Southampton in late 2015 [3].

ENDS

For more information, quotes or to arrange an interview, contact Josiah Mortimer, ERS Communications Officer – josiah.mortimer@electoral-reform.org.uk / 07717211630.

Notes to Editors

[1] Citizens’ Assemblies have been increasingly used across Europe and North America to settle key policy and constitutional issues ahead of or following referendums – with Ireland’s Citizens’ Assembly recently leading to the legalisation of equal marriage.

The Citizens’ Assembly on Brexit, which is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), will have around 45 members who will be selected by a survey company to reflect the diversity of the UK’s population in terms of gender, age, place of residence, social class, and attitudes to Brexit. The Assembly’s ideas will enrich public debates over the form that Brexit should take, just at the time when key choices and trade-offs are likely to be crystallising.

As well as being a major democratic project, the Citizens’ Assembly on Brexit will lead to a range of academic outputs, alongside comment pieces, blogs and social media work – offering new insights into how democratic decision-making is best organised. The Citizens’ Assembly on Brexit aims to help build the case for deliberative democratic approaches for other major political and constitutional issues, from the nature of local democracy to the future of the Union.

The project team aims to collaborate closely with others in developing the Assembly plans, including government ministers and officials, parliamentarians, experts, journalists, and campaigners on both sides –as well as appointing a diverse Advisory Board with to consult on the proposed overall direction.

The process will be scrupulously even-handed, working with the ESRC-funded ‘UK in a Changing Europe’ programme – which has provided widely respected impartial guidance during and since the referendum campaign – in developing the Assembly’s learning programme. Supporters of both Leave and Remain will be asked to comment on drafts of all briefing materials and will be directly involved in the Assembly sessions.

[2] http://www.esrc.ac.uk/

[3] For more information see: www.citizensassembly.co.uk.

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