COURAGE CALLS TO COURAGE EVERYWHERE
Gina Miller is the woman who took the government to court over Brexit and won. Her inspirational memoir reveals the other ways in which she has defied the odds
Gina Miller’s memoir reveals her fights for justice both professional and personal
Gina Miller is drinking a glass of sauvignon blanc in a private members’ club in central London. It has been a tough day – there have been two cabinet resignations over Brexit, including the foreign secretary Boris Johnson, and Miller has just been asked to go on Question Time, the BBC’s flagship panel discussion programme, and needs to prepare. She’s sitting on a sofa with her laptop propped up on her knees when I arrive, her back held perfectly straight with a ballerina’s poise.
‘There’s an old saying that you get the politicians you deserve,’ she says as she closes the laptop. ‘Well,’ she arches an eyebrow, ‘what did we do ?’
The 53-year-old Miller doesn’t consider herself a hero. In fact, she dismisses any mention of the word with an elegant flap of the hand. But for many of us, that’s just what she is. In 2016, she took the government to court over its intention to trigger Article 50 to leave the European Union without parliamentary consent – and she won. The issue at stake, Miller says, was not whether
Brexit was right or wrong, but whether the checks and balances of parliamentary democracy were being correctly applied.
Since then, she has become our unofficial opposition – speaking out and holding power to account at every turn. As a consequence, she has been the target of vitriolic racist and sexist abuse, to the extent that she now rarely leaves home without additional security for fear of acid attacks.
‘The way I deal with it is to remind myself that the people abusing me are acting from a place of fear and ignorance,’ Miller says. ‘If I believe in what I’m doing and the people I love believe in it, that’s what matters.’
It is a rare person who could keep going under this sort of pressure, and yet Miller
insists her actions are nothing exceptional. ‘I’m just doing what I think is right,’ she explains. ‘The problem with our politicians is that they all tend to come from the same backgrounds – the playing fields of public schools, then university and then they become professional politicians. Politics has been polluted by people only interested in power, rather than wanting to help those who are suffering.’
Against this backdrop, Miller stands out; she knows only too well what it’s like to struggle. She was born in British Guiana, the daughter of a lawyer who would rise to become district attorney, and was sent to boarding-school in England at the age of 11. As political unrest deepened at home, her parents found it increasingly difficult to send money out of the country and the young Miller found a job as a hotel chambermaid to make ends meet, rising early every morning to change dirty sheets and clean bathrooms before making it to school for a day of lessons.
This early experience of getting on with things proved formative. It’s an attitude she still applies – both to her political activism, and to her home life: she is the mother of three children, the eldest of whom, Lucy-Ann, has special needs with symptoms of autism, dyslexia and dyspraxia.
When Lucy-Ann was young, Miller was advised by the medical establishment and her own family to put her into an institution. The experts said she would never be able to walk or talk like a ‘normal’ child. But Miller refused to accept this opinion and raised her daughter to exceed their expectations. Today, 30-year-old Lucy-Ann has a reading age of six and can both walk and talk. ‘I became a lioness, fighting for my cub,’ Miller says now. ‘What I’ve done is taken that instinct I had with Lucy-Ann, and I’m fighting for others who can’t fight for themselves.’
I helped Miller write her memoir, Rise, and was constantly astonished by the way she picked herself up after a series of life crises. Her hero is Maya
Angelou and she gets daily inspiration from the suffragettes. ‘They were extraordinarily brave women. I don’t think we can even begin to imagine or to thank them for what they did.’
Through the course of writing her memoir, Miller spoke to me a lot about the need to build up emotional resilience and to discover how to cope with failure so that one could learn, rather than be defeated by it. Into this category, she puts the fact that she survived an abusive second marriage, before going on to find lasting happiness with her current husband, Alan, with whom she runs an ethical investment company, SCM Direct, and has two children, Luca, 12, and Lana, 10.
‘It’s their future I’m worried about,’ Miller says. ‘That’s why I do what I do, because I want them to be able to grow up in a country where you are not judged by the colour of your skin, a country of fair play and tolerant values. That’s the Britain I remember.’
Are there any politicians she has met who have made a particularly bad impression on her? ‘There are some really strong backbenchers,’ she says diplomatically. ‘But the front bench are just interested in power.’ Although Miller insists she is not considering a political career herself, she says she has various things up her sleeve over the coming months to ensure the voices of ordinary people are still being heard by our MPs. But the only parties she’s been involved with lately are not political ones – she recently threw a party for LucyAnn’s 30th birthday in her back garden, where guests danced into the early hours. ‘It was a celebration of the person she’d become,’ Miller says, ‘because she’d proved everybody wrong.’
Like mother, like daughter.
‘Rise’ by Gina Miller, written with Elizabeth Day (£16.99, Canongate), is out now.
‘Politics has been polluted by people only interested in power, rather than wanting to help those who
Gina Miller. Below: Elizabeth Day
Gina Milleraddressing the crowd at thePeople’s Vote demonstrationin June
Above: Miller representing the Article 50 case at the Royal Courts of Justice. Left: at the Supreme Court