The Electoral Reform Society is calling for a ‘Citizens Assembly on Brexit’ to find a way forward through the Brexit impasse.
In a letter launched today, the leading democracy group join high-profile figures including Damon Albarn and former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams in demanding a new way to finding a solution to the current ‘deadlock’.
The ERS were a partner in a civil-society led citizens’ assembly on Brexit in 2017 , and in 2015 led Citizens’ Assemblies on English devolution, made up of randomly-selected members of the public .
The 2016 citizens’ assembly in Ireland has been credited with finding a way foreword through complex and contested constitutional issues .
A citizens’ assembly is a representative group of citizens who are selected at random from the population to learn about, deliberate upon, and make recommendations in relation to a particular issue or set of issues.
The letter in full
Our politics and our parliament is in deadlock over Brexit. But if we choose to learn from other countries in how we resolve our differences, this could be a moment when Britain comes together rather than falling apart in constitutional chaos.
Looking on, we cannot see how a majority can be found for any proposition in parliament: some want to remain, some want no deal, some want Norway, some want to vote again. The same rifts exist across the UK. Anger and resentment are growing, splitting families, communities and our country. Without a new intervention, the toxic culture which has infected public life will irrevocably damage democracy and the future for us all.
Each of us individually has different views on what should happen next when it comes to Brexit, but we all agree that finding a way forward is vital to restoring faith in our democracy. We are not MPs and we respect the important work they do. Yet we also recognise that there are important ways to help heal this rift and involve the public in deeper and more meaningful ways.
Citizens’ assemblies operate around the world to create a neutral forum for evidence-based, participative decision-making. In recent years, they have been used in Ireland, British Columbia and Iceland, and in national and local government in the UK, as democratic “circuit-breakers” on contentious and complex issues. Taking eight weeks to organise, such assemblies are constructed of a randomly chosen representative group of up to 500 members of the public. They hear a broad range of evidence and arguments on a subject, which they discuss and weigh up before making considered recommendations to their political representatives.
A forum led by the public, not by politicians. People talking and listening to each other, not shouting and arguing on or offline, to find common ground. Not superseding MPs by judging the outcome, but offering recommendations on how Brexit should be decided, to help break this deadlock and start to heal the nation’s bitter divisions.
Brexit has come to test the patience of the British public. To make progress we should instead trust their wisdom and use it to resolve our differences, deepen our democracy and unite us all.
Rowan Williams, Damon Albarn, Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner, Jonathan Coe, Ian McEwan, Caitlin Moran, Neal Lawson Compass, Dr Jess Garland Electoral Reform Society, Ruth Lister Labour, House of Lords, Anshu Srivastava The Full Brexit, Alexandra Runswick, Unlock Democracy, Prof Graham Smith Centre for the Study of Democracy, Francesca Klug Human rights expert, Nick Lowles Hope Not Hate, Anthony Barnett Co-founder of openDemocracy, Michael Wills Labour, House of Lords, Graham Allen Citizens’ Convention on UK Democracy, Tim Hughes Involve, Prof Nick Pearce Institute for Policy Research, University of Bath, Nick Baines Bishop of Leeds, Peter Cross Sortition Foundation
Notes to Editors