The EU referendum decided that the UK is leaving the European Union. But it didn’t decide the detail of what kind of Brexit the UK should seek or what relationship the UK and the EU should have in the future.
“If democracy is to work well, public opinion needs to be properly informed... On an issue as complex as Brexit, people need more citizens’ assemblies to cut through the cacophony.”
James Blitz, Financial Times (3/10/17)
The 2016 Brexit referendum result told us that the majority of those who voted wanted to leave the EU. But it doesn’t tell us what people think our future relationship with the EU should be. The question on the ballot paper didn’t cover issues around the Single Market or the Customs Union. The government is negotiating with the EU with limited knowledge of the priorities of the UK electorate.
The Citizens’ Assembly on Brexit brought together a diverse group of 50 UK voters with different viewpoints. It was an opportunity for them to learn about the issues of trade and migration from a variety of experts and politicians, deliberate with each other and come to recommendations on the form that Brexit should take.
Who was involved
The Assembly was organised by an independent group of academics and civil society organisations and funded by the Economic and Social Research Council as part of its UK in a Changing Europe programme.
The participants were recruited through an online survey. They were selected using a random stratified sampling frame and were chosen to be broadly representative of the UK population in terms of; age, ethnicity, gender, region, social class and Brexit vote. The recruitment was run by the team at the Constitution Unit UCL, you can read more about how the participant were recruited and selected here.
What we did
Involve led the design and delivery of the two assembly weekends. The design allowed for the key three stages; learning about the information and options, deliberating on the issues, making conclusions and recommendations.
The first weekend focused on learning. Assembly Members were introduced to trade and migration issues relating to Brexit. There were presentations from experts with different viewpoints on these issues who were questioned by Assembly Members.
“The Citizens’ Assembly has, I believe, a great capacity to add something that it is too often missing from our political debate – the voice of citizens.”
John Mills, Chair of the ‘Labour Leave’ campaign
The second weekend was focused on deliberation and agreeing the recommendations. Assembly Members heard from two MPs with different views and discussed and debated their own priorities for Brexit. In order to reach conclusions on the recommendations they created guidelines for the UK government on what the UK’s trade and migration policies should be post-Brexit. They then made more specific recommendations on future trade relations with the EU, on trade relations with non-EU countries and on migration policy. More detail on the recommendations and findings of the Assembly can be found in the summary and full reports.
The design and briefing materials as well as the selection of expert speakers were reviewed by an Advisory Board. The board included both Leave and Remain supporters, as well as experts in the presentation of neutral information on Brexit-related matters. The briefing papers, lists of speakers, schedule and other materials can be viewed and downloaded here.
The results of the Assembly are summarised below
- On trade, it preferred a bespoke UK/EU trade deal and a customs union that would allow the UK to conduct its own international trade policy while maintaining a frictionless UK/EU border.
- On migration, it voted to retain free movement of labour, but with the UK government exercising all available controls to prevent abuse of the system.
- If a deal cannot be reached in negotiations on trade, it preferred to stay in the Single Market and Customs Union to no deal at all.
The full report and summary report can be accessed below.
You can also view the paper in the Political Quarterly “What Kind of Brexit do Voters want? Lessons from the Citizens’ Assembly on Brexit” online.
To find out more about the Citizens' Assembly method click here.