With parliament deadlocked, people are looking for alternative ways to break the Brexit impasse. Many have been suggested, from the Queen intervening to the formation of a government of national unity. Among the options is a citizens’ assembly (or similar deliberative process). Tim Hughes discusses four potential ways in which a citizens’ assembly could help break the current deadlock.
A citizens’ assembly is a body of citizens – typically 50 to 250 – that learn about an issue and deliberate over possible options, before reaching a collective decision. Like jury service, citizens are chosen at random to take part in the citizens’ assembly. Unlike jury service, they’re often also selected to be demographically representative of the wider population, forming what is called a ‘mini-public’. The idea is that the citizens’ assembly looks and feels like a miniature version of the wider public.
Citizens’ assemblies are fantastic tools for addressing challenging issues. They enable members of the public – not weighed down by party political interests or aspirations – to learn in depth about an issue through hearing from expert witnesses and discussions with people from all walks of life. And after that learning and deliberation, they reach a collective decision.
There is no more challenging issue at the moment than Brexit, so it’s unsurprising that citizens’ assemblies have been proposed as a possible solution. But while citizens’ assemblies have been used to tackle some very controversial issues – including abortion in Ireland – one has never been attempted in a political and media environment quite as febrile as the current Brexit debate. Continue reading