UCL News


UK voters want soft Brexit

2 October 2017

The Citizens' Assembly on Brexit, a representative body of UK citizens brought together to discuss Brexit and led by the UCL Constitution Unit, has sent politicians a clear message in favour of a "soft Brexit.

Citizens Assembly


The Assembly met last weekend, which was the second time it has met since the project launched in July 2017.

Faced with the range of possible outcomes, members chose to retain free movement of labour, but with the UK government exercising all available controls to prevent abuse. If a deal can't be reached in negotiations on trade, staying in the Single Market and Customs Union was preferred to no deal at all.

The Citizens' Assembly on Brexit is an opportunity for a diverse group of 50 UK voters with different viewpoints to learn about the issues of trade and immigration, to deliberate with each other and come to recommendations on the form Brexit should take. The members, randomly selected to capture the diversity of the UK population, met in Manchester to consider options for the UK's post-Brexit relationship with Europe.

After hearing from a range of experts, and from politicians from both sides of the Brexit divide, they took four key votes:

  • On trade with the EU, members voted for a bespoke trade deal ahead of staying in the Single Market. But should that prove impossible, their preference was to stay in the Single Market rather than agree no deal at all.
  • On trade outside the EU, members preferred a bespoke customs deal, allowing the UK to strike its own international trade deals but maintain frictionless borders. If that can't be achieved they would opt to remain in the Customs Union rather than do no deal.
  • On immigration, Assembly Members were offered five options, of which retaining free movement, but with the government making full use of existing controls, won a clear majority of the vote.
  • On the overall deal with the EU, Assembly Members preferred a comprehensive trade deal combined with favourable access for EU citizens. If such a deal proves unattainable, they again wanted the UK to stay in the Single Market rather than do no deal.

The Citizens' Assembly on Brexit is part of the UK in a Changing Europe programme, which provides high-quality objective analysis of Brexit-related matters and is based at King's College London. The research team is led by the UCL Constitution Unit.

The Assembly has been endorsed by a range of high-profile figures from across the Brexit divide, including Conservatives Bernard Jenkin and Nicky Morgan, Labour's Chuka Umunna, and UKIP's Suzanne Evans. Crucially the Assembly's members were selected to reflect last year's Brexit vote, alongside social class, region, age, gender and ethnicity. Of the 50 members, 25 voted Leave in the 2016 referendum, 22 voted Remain and 3 did not vote.

The members heard presentations from Conservative MP Graham Brady - chair of the prestigious 1922 Committee, and a prominent Leave supporter - and Labour MP Kate Green - a strong supporter of remaining in the Single Market.

Project Leader Dr Alan Renwick (UCL Constitution Unit) said of the results: "These findings are important, because this is the first opportunity UK citizens have had since the 2016 referendum to consider in depth what version of Brexit they want, and to communicate that to policy-makers."

"After two weekends of study and deliberation, drawing on expert evidence and balanced briefing materials, citizens concluded that politicians should seek a bespoke deal with the EU. But if that proves impossible, they would rather remain close to Europe than follow some politicians' proposal to go it alone."

"The Citizens' Assembly on Brexit not only demonstrates citizens' views on this key issue, but also the wider benefit of such deliberative processes. Members with very different views came together, listened to each other and to the evidence, and were prepared to reach compromises. Feedback from members was overwhelmingly positive. This exercise shows that citizens are willing and able to tackle complex divisive issues. Now that they have done so, politicians should take those views seriously."

The Citizens' Assembly was organised by a consortium of universities and civil society organisations: the UCL Constitution Unit, Centre for the Study of Democracy at the University of Westminster, University of Southampton, Involve, and the Electoral Reform Society.

The Assembly's deliberations and conclusions will be summarised in a report, to be presented to government and parliament.