The Citizens’ Assembly on Brexit: Public to debate UK’s exit terms

27th April 2017
27 Apr 2017
Citizens' Assembly


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The Citizens’ Assembly on Brexit: Public to debate UK’s exit terms

  • Statement from UCL’s Constitution Unit, the University of Westminster's Centre for the Study of Democracy, the University of Southampton, and the Electoral Reform Society
  • Embargoed for 10am, 27th April 2017
  • ERS Chief Executive Katie Ghose is available for interview. Contact Josiah Mortimer, ERS Communications Officer - / 07717211630.

Leading academics and democracy campaigners are to hold a ‘Citizens’ Assembly’ on Brexit [1] this September, in a bid to ensure the public’s voices are heard in the process of Britain leaving the EU.

The project will bring together a diverse sample of citizens to contribute to the Brexit process – and provide the first example of meaningful public deliberation on what form Brexit should take.

Citizens will engage in detailed and informed discussions to reach well thought-out conclusions, in a process organised by leading academics at UCL’s Constitution Unit, in partnership with the University of Westminster's Centre for the Study of Democracy, the University of Southampton and the Electoral Reform Society.

Over two weekends in September – just ahead of pivotal elections in Germany which could shape the negotiations – a diverse group of voters will learn about the options for Brexit, hearing from a wide range of experts and campaigners from all sides of the debate, and deliberate on what they have heard.

Crucially, the Assembly will then agree recommendations that will be written up in a final report and presented to key decision makers at a high-profile Westminster event. 

Katie Ghose, Chief Executive of the Electoral Reform Society, said:

“This is the first real opportunity for the public to have their say on Theresa May’s Brexit plans.

“There is widespread agreement that the Brexit plans should respect and respond to public opinion – as demanded by both democratic principle and the need for broad public legitimacy. This Assembly provides a unique and innovative approach to gauging the opinions of citizens on the most pressing constitutional issue we face as a country.

“As we noted before polling day last year, public engagement in Brexit shouldn’t end on June 23rd. This project is an exciting way of continuing the public engagement we saw last year – and letting voters influence the debate.”

Principal Investigator, Dr Alan Renwick, said:

“The Citizens’ Assembly on Brexit is a chance to help to bridge the gap between the ‘52 per cent’ and the ‘48 per cent’ in the Brexit debate – and explore how deliberative democratic approaches can make that happen.

“The Brexit referendum last June was a clear example of citizen involvement in the determining the course of Britain’s constitution. This Citizens’ Assembly will provide a powerful mechanism to continue that vital involvement, giving the government a clear signal of where public opinion now sits on the form Brexit should take.”

The project team already has a great deal of expertise in running similar assemblies – having conducted the UK’s first ever assemblies on local devolution in Sheffield and Southampton in late 2015 [2].


For more information, quotes or to arrange an interview, contact Josiah Mortimer, ERS Communications Officer - / 07717211630.

Notes to Editors

[1] Citizens’ Assemblies have been increasingly used across Europe and North America to settle key policy and constitutional issues ahead of or following referendums – with Ireland’s Citizens’ Assembly recently leading to the legalisation of equal marriage.

The Citizens’ Assembly on Brexit will have around 45 members who will be selected by a survey company to reflect the diversity of the UK’s population in terms of gender, age, place of residence, social class, and attitudes to Brexit. The Assembly’s ideas will enrich public debates over the form that Brexit should take, just at the time when key choices and trade-offs are likely to be crystallising.

As well as being a major democratic project, the Citizens' Assembly on Brexit will lead to a range of academic outputs, alongside comment pieces, blogs and social media work – offering new insights into how democratic decision-making is best organised. The Citizens' Assembly on Brexit aims to help build the case for deliberative democratic approaches for other major political and constitutional issues, from the nature of local democracy to the future of the Union.

The project team aims to collaborate closely with others in developing the Assembly plans, including government ministers and officials, parliamentarians, experts, journalists, and campaigners on both sides –as well as appointing a diverse Advisory Board with to consult on the proposed overall direction.

The process will be scrupulously even-handed, working with the ‘UK in a Changing Europe’ programme – which has provided widely respected impartial guidance during and since the referendum campaign – in developing the Assembly’s learning programme. Supporters of both Leave and Remain will be asked to comment on drafts of all briefing materials and will be directly involved in the Assembly sessions.

[2] For more information see:

Lords reform shouldn’t be threat but 'real plan to take back control’, say campaigners

20th February 2017
20 Feb 2017
house of lords
Article 50
EU referendum
Article 50 Bill
Brexit Bill


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Electoral Reform Society statement for immediate release, 20th February 2017

Contact: Josiah Mortimer, Communications Officer - / 07717211630.

Commenting on the fact that Peers begin debating the Article 50 Bill today, Katie Ghose, Chief Executive of the Electoral Reform Society, said:

“It’s understandable that peers on both sides want to have their say on legislation – after all that is what they are meant to be there for. But it would be wrong for Peers to try and disrupt the Brexit process. The upper chamber simply doesn’t have any legitimacy to scrutinise let alone block legislation given that it is totally unelected.

“Whatever Peers do when it comes to Article 50, serious reform of the Lords has to be on the table – not as a threat in the event that Peers try and amend the Brexit bill, but as a vital step in genuinely ‘taking back control’ for British voters. Lords reform shouldn’t be something that’s just wheeled out to intimidate Peers any time they go against the wishes of government – it should be part of a real plan for democratic reform after Brexit.  

“We do need a revising chamber to scrutinise vital bills like this. But given that the Article 50 bill is of such huge constitutional importance, those voting on it should be chosen by voters themselves.

“It would be a sorry irony indeed if ‘take back control’ meant simply handing power to unelected Lords. A big theme of the EU referendum was democracy, so we need to put those words into practice and bring power back to voters here.  

“Whatever the case, we’d be more than happy to work with the government on reforming the Lords. Just one in ten voters support the current chamber as it is [1] – it’s time for real reform and a fairly-elected upper house.”

For more information, quotes or to arrange an interview, contact Josiah Mortimer, Communications Officer - / 07717211630.



The public need a say on where power will lie after Brexit

So Theresa May has fleshed out her plans for Britain leaving the EU and becoming an independent self-governing nation.  With more detail emerging about the economic plan, it’s time to look at the democratic implications.

Electoral Reform Society Scotland Calls For Constitutional Convention As Referendum Shows 'Nations Divided'

24th June 2016
24 Jun 2016
ERS Scotland
EU referendum


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Electoral Reform Society Calls For Constitutional Convention As Referendum Shows 'Nations Divided'

  • ERS Scotland warns of “constitutional chaos” as Scotland, Northern Ireland and London vote remain despite overall ‘leave’ result
  • Scottish independence back on agenda as Salmond predicts second independence referendum and Greens launch petition to keep Scotland in EU
  • Campaigners criticise “piecemeal and ad hoc” approach to previous constitutional change, and calls for “joined-up deliberation” which “lets the public in”

Statement from Electoral Reform Society Scotland for immediate release, June 24th, 2016

For media enquiries, contact: Rory Scothorne, ERS Scotland Campaigns Organiser (Policy), on or 07988157783, or Katie Gallogly-Swan, ERS Scotland Campaigns Organiser, on or 07930862497

The Electoral Reform Society Scotland has called for a constitutional convention to avoid “constitutional chaos” after the UK voted to leave the European Union - despite Scotland, London and Northern Ireland voting to remain.

ERS Scotland criticised the “piecemeal and ad hoc” approach to previous constitutional change and are calling for future change to involve "joined-up deliberation" to “let the public in” following the conflicted result.

Scotland voted to remain in the EU by 62% to 38%, with every local authority voting for remain, but 52% of the UK as a whole voted to leave. The result has led to renewed calls for Scotland to find a way of staying in the EU despite the UK-wide result, with the Scottish Green Party launching a petition called “keep Scotland in Europe” which asks Holyrood’s politicians to “examine and exhaust every option for continuing Scotland’s close ties with Europe.”

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has previously said that if Scotland voted to remain while the UK as a whole voted to leave, it could constitute a sufficient “material change” to justify another referendum on Scottish independence from the UK. Former SNP leader Alex Salmond has predicted that Sturgeon would now “implement the SNP manifesto” which proposed a second referendum under such circumstances.

Spokesperson for ERS Scotland Rory Scothorne said:

“We are clearly in uncharted political waters here. The governments of the UK should very quickly issue a joint holding statement on how they might plot a course through this turbulent constitutional time. This vote poses big questions about the constitution of the UK as a political entity going forward, with the UK’s nations divided. Without action now we risk descending into constitutional chaos, and it’s vital that the public are involved in the discussions that lie ahead about the ramifications of this split vote.  

"Despite an unremittingly negative campaign, people took their democratic duty seriously and turned out in higher than expected numbers. The public's appetite to engage in constitutional issues, seen first in the independence referendum and reflected in yesterday’s turnout – higher than the recent Holyrood election – is clear. The referendum should mark the beginning not the end of involving the public in shaping future democracy in Scotland and the UK.

“It’s more clear than ever that we need a citizen-led constitutional convention to bring citizens and politicians together to seriously discuss the democratic future of the UK. The constitutional changes we’ve seen in recent years have been piecemeal and ad hoc – it’s time for some joined-up deliberation and to let the public in. All parties across the UK should now come together to discuss how best to start this essential process.”