Give the people of the UK a meaningful voice on Brexit: hold a Citizens' Assembly

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Our politics and our parliament are in deadlock over Brexit. But if we choose to learn from other countries on how we resolve our differences, this could be a moment when Britain comes together rather than falls 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 each of us 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 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.

Signed,

Baron Rowan Williams  
Damon Albarn, musician
Baroness Ruth Lister
Rabbi Laura Janner-Klauser
Jonathan Coe, novelist
Ian McEwan, novelist
Caitlin Moran, journalist
Neal Lawson, Compass
Anshu Srivastava, member of The Full Brexit 
Alexandra Runswick, Unlock Democracy
Dr Jess Garland, Electoral Reform Society
Professor Graham Smith, Centre for the Study of Democracy
Francesca Klug, human rights academic
Nick Lowles MBE, Hope Not Hate
Anthony Barnett, founder of Charter 88
Lord Michael Wills
Graham Allen, convener of Citizens' Convention on UK Democracy
Tim Hughes, Involve
Professor Nick Pearce, The Institute for Policy Research, University of Bath
Bishop Nick Baines, Leeds
Peter Cross, Sortition Foundation


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