Citizens’ Assembly on Brexit to put voters’ voices into EU negotiations

Citizens from across the UK are taking part in the first ‘Citizens’ Assembly’ on Brexit this weekend in Manchester, in a bid to put voters’ voices at the centre of the EU debate.

The Assembly brings together a randomly selected group of members of the public designed to be broadly representative of the country. It has secured high-profile backing from across the so-called ‘Brexit divide’ – including Stephen Kinnock MP, Bernard Jenkin MP, Chuka Umunna MP, leading Brexit campaigners Harsimrat Kaur and John Mills, Britain Stronger in Europe Director Will Straw, UKIP’s Suzanne Evans, and senior Brexit expert and academic Anand Menon [1].

Assembly members will learn about the options for Brexit, hearing from academics and experts from all sides of the debate, and discussing their own priorities, hopes and fears. Over two weekends (starting on 9 and 30 September), citizens will focus on choices relating to trade and immigration – including how these choices will impact the economy, jobs, public services, and sovereignty.

Their deliberations will lead, at the second weekend, to recommendations for what Brexit should look like, and what UK negotiators should prioritise now in the face of different potential EU bargaining positions.

Martin Boon, Director of ICM Research which aided with the recruitment of members, described himself as ‘stunned’ by the levels of interest from the public: “We were expecting low level commitment, but over half of our 5,000 sample were interested in attending, and over a thousand confirmed they could and would like to attend,”.

The project is part of the ESRC-funded ‘The UK in a Changing Europe’ initiative [2], and is the first example of deep public deliberation on what form Brexit should take. It is organised by leading academics at UCL’s prestigious Constitution Unit, in partnership with the University of Westminster’s Centre for the Study of Democracy, the University of Southampton, Involve, and the Electoral Reform Society.

The recommendations will be written up in a final report and presented to key decision makers at a high-profile Westminster event.

Dr Alan Renwick, Principal Investigator, said:

“The Citizens’ Assembly is the first real opportunity for citizens on all sides to engage in depth with the major questions around Brexit, which were missing from this year’s election campaign. We hope the Assembly will make a major contribution to advancing public discussion of this country-changing process and enable voters to influence the Brexit debate.

“The referendum last June decided that the UK will leave the European Union, but debates during the campaign and since have given voters little opportunity to formulate – far less, express – clear views on the form they want Brexit to take. This Citizens’ Assembly on Brexit is designed to fill that gap. It should give policy-makers in government and parliament valuable evidence as to where public priorities really lie. This is a chance to explore how deliberative democratic approaches can improve the quality of public discussion around contentious policy issues, and we hope decision-makers will watch this closely.”

Nicky Morgan, Conservative MP for Loughborough, said:

“Leaving the EU will have a great effect on the lives of the British people and I know from the conversations I have had… that people want to have their say on the terms of our withdrawal and our future partnership with the EU. Whilst, of course, MPs are able to represent their constituents’ views in Parliament, it is important that the public also have an opportunity to learn more about the options for Brexit from leading experts and campaigners, and discuss their ideas with their peers. Therefore, I am delighted to support the Citizens’ Assembly on Brexit.”

Suzanne Evans, former Deputy Chair of UKIP, said:

“Now that the British people have voted to leave the European Union – a cause I have championed for many years – it is time to ensure that people’s voices continue to be heard. The Citizens’ Assembly on Brexit, by providing all the information people need without the spin, is an ideal way of doing this. I fully support this project and look forward to hearing the recommendations of this cross-section of British society.”

Chuka Umunna, Labour MP for Streatham and founder of Vote Leave Watch, said: 

“As the representative of the most ‘Remain’ constituency in Britain and chair of Vote Leave Watch, I am a firm believer in the benefits of a close relationship with our European partners.

“Rather than pursuing a recklessly hard Brexit, this government needs to listen to what the people want and a citizens’ assembly is a great way of doing this. I am happy to support projects like this that attempt to bridge the great divides in British society.”

Bernard Jenkin, Conservative MP for Harwich and North Essex, said:

“I was a long-term critic of European political and monetary union, and opposed Maastricht and the subsequent treaties on the basis that the EU lacked democratic legitimacy, transparency and accountability.

“This is why I am delighted to support this Citizens’ Assembly on Brexit – where people will be given a chance to discuss the best way for the UK to leave the European Union.”

The project team already has expertise in running similar assemblies – including conducting the UK’s first assemblies on local devolution in Sheffield and Southampton in late 2015 [4].

ENDS

For more information on the project see: www.citizensassembly.co.uk/Brexit. Dr Alan Renwick, Director of the project at UCL, is available for interview – contact a.renwick@ucl.ac.uk or 02076794979. There will be limited places for journalists to attend the Citizens’ Assembly. Those interested should contact Edward.molloy@electoral-reform.org.uk

Notes to Editors

[1] For full quotes from leading figures see: www.citizensassembly.co.uk/Brexit 

[2] Citizens’ Assemblies have been increasingly used across Europe and North America to formulate proposals on key policy and constitutional issues often associated with referendums – with Ireland’s Constitutional Convention, based on the citizens’ assembly model, recently leading the way towards the legalisation of same-sex marriage.

The Citizens’ Assembly on Brexit will have around 45 members who have been selected with the assistance of a survey company to reflect the diversity of the UK’s population in terms of gender, age, place of residence, social class, ethnicity, 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 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 project team has worked closely with others in developing the Assembly plans, including parliamentarians, experts, journalists, and campaigners on all sides of the Brexit debate. This will help ensure that the approach taken is scrupulously even-handed.

[3] See http://ukandeu.ac.uk/

[4] For more information see: http://citizensassembly.co.uk/democracy-matters/

 

 

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