The Citizens’ Assembly on Brexit: design and purpose

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Series Details 30.08.17
Publication Date 30/08/2017
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The Citizens’ Assembly on Brexit took place over two weekends in September 2017, bringing people together and broadly representing the electorate of the United Kingdom.

The Citizens’ Assembly on Brexit would allow members to engage in detailed, reflective and informed discussions about what the UK’s post-Brexit relations with the European Union should be. The project was led by the Constitution Unit at UCL, supported by a range of partners and funders.

The members, who weree selected to reflect the diversity of the UK’s electorate, spent the weekends learning from a range of experts across the leave/remain spectrum about the different options and trade-offs involved in leaving the EU. The members deliberated on and agreed on recommendations for what form of Brexit the UK government should pursue.

Citizens’ assemblies are deliberative democratic mechanisms that are designed to improve decision-making by allowing informed and considered public opinion to be heard on major policy questions. Other similar bodies have operated in parts of Canada – notably British Columbia and Ontario – and there is a citizens’ assembly currently operating in Ireland. Two pilot citizens’ assemblies took place in parts of the UK in 2015 on the topic of devolution.

Citizens’ assemblies emphasise two important areas of democracy: the participation of ordinary citizens in decision-making; and careful, thoughtful discussion of the arguments for and against different options. The Citizens’ Assembly on Brexit will build on experiences in earlier assemblies to yield – we hope – thoughtful discussions and reasoned conclusions.

After the Assembly has met, its recommendations will be written up in a report that will be delivered to government and parliament. This will allow voices of the public to be heard among ministers and MPs. It will also allow politicians to engage effectively with public aspirations and concerns.

The Citizens’ Assembly project is part of the UK in a Changing Europe initiative, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC).The UCL Constitution Unit led a team running a Citizens’ Assembly on Brexit, which met over two weekends in September 2017, starting with the weekend of 8–10 September 2017. The Assembly consisted of 50 UK citizens, selected to reflect the diversity of the UK electorate. Alan Renwick and Rebecca McKee explain how the Assembly would work and what it was hoped would be achieved.

The process of leaving the EU presented the biggest set of decisions faced by the UK polity for decades. Given its prominence and importance, decision-making must satisfy two conditions.

First, it should respect and respond to public opinion: both democratic principle and the need for public legitimacy demand this.

Second, the process should be carefully considered: the options and their implications for all parts of society should be clearly understood and priorities carefully weighed. The project was designed to advance these goals – and thereby to make a major and distinctive contribution to the Brexit process.

Subsequently, on 13 December 2017, events were held in the UK parliament and at UCL to launch the Assembly’s full report* and to discuss the recommendations the Assembly reached.

The Assembly members considered two key aspects of the future UK–EU relationship: trade and migration. The majority of members of the Assembly wanted to pursue a close, bespoke relationship with the EU. If such an agreement proved impossible, the majority of members preferred the option of the UK staying in the Single Market and the Customs Union rather than leaving the EU with no deal on future relations. This was a significant recommendation considering the rhetoric from some Brexit supporters on the possibility of no deal.

* A considered public voice on Brexit. The report of the Citizens' Assembly on Brexit, December 2017

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Related Links
Blog: UK in a Changing Europe, 11.09.17: Citizens’ Assembly on Brexit: reflections
UCL: The Constitution Unit: UK Citizens' Assemblies: Citizens’ Assembly on Brexit, September 2017
ESO: In Focus: Brexit - The United Kingdom and the European Union
UK in a Changing Europe: Citizens’ assembly on Brexit
Blog: UK in a Changing Europe, 30.08.17: The Citizens’ Assembly on Brexit: design and purpose
Blog: LSE Brexit, 01.09.17: Forty-five people, two weekends: the Citizens’ Assembly on Brexit
openDemocracy, 27.10.17: An interesting Brexit experiment worthy of analysis
UCL: The Constitution Unit, 06.12.17: Is the Citizens’ Assembly on Brexit a citizens’ assembly at all?
UCL: The Constitution Unit, 21.12.17: Citizens’ Assembly on Brexit full report: launch events
UCL: The Constitution Unit (et al): A considered public voice on Brexit. The report of the Citizens' Assembly on Brexit, December 2017
UCL: The Constitution Unit, 26.10.17: Report of the Citizens’ Assembly on Brexit: the public reject ‘no deal’

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