Last modified on Wed 9 Jan 2019
This article is more than 6 months old
Calls are growing to convene a citizens’ assembly on Brexit. Here’s what you need to know
Several influential groups and figures have suggested adopting a form of citizens’ assembly, as used in the Irish referendum debate, to find a way to break the Brexit impasse.
What is a citizens’ assembly?
A citizens’ assembly is a group of people brought together to discuss an issue or issues, and reach a conclusion about what they think should happen, according to the definition put forward by the House of Commons library.
Citizens’ assemblies give members of the public the time and opportunity to learn about and discuss a topic, before reaching conclusions, it says. Assembly members are asked to make trade-offs and arrive at workable recommendations.
Facilitated by experts and combining small-group discussions with large-scale debates and a series of votes, members meet over a series of weekends with the goal of removing the conflicts of interest and tribal loyalties that can hamper politicians in reaching a conclusion.
A cross-section of the public is employed to study the options available to the state on certain questions and propose answers through rational and reasoned discussion and the use of various methods of inquiry, such as directly questioning experts. In many cases, the state will require the proposals to be accepted through a referendum before becoming law.
Who takes part in a citizens’ assembly?
The people who take part are chosen randomly so they reflect the wider population in terms of demographics – age, gender, ethnicity and social class.
The number of members involved can vary. A recent citizens’ assembly, formed to examine social care provision in England, had 47 members who were English citizens and eligible to vote in UK general elections.
How have citizens’ assemblies been used before?
Citizens’ assemblies, and other similar methods, have been used in the UK and other countries, including Australia, Canada and the US, to address a range of complex issues.
One of the most prominent to take place in recent years was the assembly established by the Irish parliament to address abortion after a decision had been made to have a referendum on the issue. A panel of 99 people, after convening in a Dublin hotel over a series of weekends, then made recommendations on the legislation that would be laid down by the Dáil if the referendum was carried. In a reverse of the sequence in the UK, the public knew that they were voting on legislation before the Dáil, providing for abortion on request up to the 12th week of pregnancy.
How could a citizens’ assembly be applied to Brexit?
In its editorial, the Guardian argues that in order to break the current Brexit gridlock, MPs should open up the debate to the country by establishing a citizens’ assembly to examine the options and issues that face the nation.
After this, it says, parliament should have the right, if it so chooses, to put these alternatives to the public in a referendum this year or next.
Is there any support for a citizens’ assembly on Brexit?
Last month, the campaign group Compass was among the signatories to a letter calling for a citizens’ assembly on Brexit. It wants an assembly to be set up where 500 members of the public, picked at random, would hear evidence on Brexit.
Neal Lawson, the chair of Compass, said: “Parliament is fast reaching an impasse. It is time to hand the decision over to a deliberative panel of citizens to decide the best way forward for the country.”
Other signatories to the letter included the Blur frontman Damon Albarn, the former archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, the bishop of Leeds, Nick Baines, the Labour peer Ruth Lister, the novelists Jonathan Coe and Ian McEwan, and Alexandra Runswick from the pressure group Unlock Democracy. The Labour MP Stella Creasy has also backed the idea.
Jan 2019) What is a citizens’ assembly, and what has it got to do with Brexit? The Guardian
Last modified on Wed 9 Jan 2019 This article is more than 6 months old Calls are growing to convene a citizens’ assembly on Brexit. Here’s what you need to know Several influential groups and figures have suggested adopting a form of citizens’ assembly, as used in the Irish referendum debate, to find a way… [Read More]