Brexit 'Citizens' Assembly' launched to enrich EU debate with voters' voices

Academics, politicians and the public will team up to make recommendations on trade and immigration.

Brexit negotiations: Four biggest issuesNewsweek

A so called "Citizens' Assembly" of academics, politicians and the public will be put together in a bid to "enrich" the debate around Brexit and make recommendations to the government, it was announced on the evening of Tuesday 11 July.

The project, part of the Economic and Social Research Council-funded "UK in a Changing Europe" initiative, has already won cross-party support from the likes of Labour MP Chuka Umunna, deputy Ukip chairwoman Suzanne Evans and Conservative MP Bernard Jenkin.

University College London's Dr Alan Renwick, who is the principal investigator for the project, said: "The referendum last June decided that the UK will leave the European Union.

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"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 is designed to fill that gap. It should give policy-makers in government and parliament valuable evidence as to where public priorities really lie."

The process, which is supported by the University of Westminster's Centre for the Study of Democracy, the University of Southampton, Involve, and the Electoral Reform Society, will run for two weekends in September in Manchester (the 8th and 29th) – just as the Brexit negotiations start to move beyond preliminaries.

Around 45 voters will focus on choices relating to trade and immigration, and the implications of these on issues such as the economy, jobs, public services and the degree to which the UK can control its own affairs.

The assembly, based on similar projects in Europe and North America, will eventually agree on recommendations that will be written up in a final report and presented to key decision makers at a "high-profile" Westminster event.

"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," said Umunna.

"And I also think that 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."

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The announcement comes just weeks after Brexit Secretary David Davis and EU negotiator Michel Barnier kicked off the two-year-long divorce talks.

The ruling Conservative Party, despite losing their majority of MPs in the House of Commons at the election, still plan to split from the EU's single-market and customs union so that the UK can broker its own free trade deals with non-EU nations and crackdown on immigration.

But the stance has been described as a "hard Brexit", with business leaders warning of a "cliff edge", which would see the UK dropping out of the EU and trading with the bloc on default World Trade Organisation rules.

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