UK

Gina Miller Says Racist Abuse Over Brexit Made Her 'Feel Like A Foreigner' After 40 Years In Britain

Leading campaigner says she no longer feels British.

04/03/2017 11:10 GMT | Updated 04/03/2017 11:35 GMT
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Gina Miller arrives at the Supreme Court in January amid police officers and press

Before Brexit, investment fund manager Gina Miller campaigned for greater transparency to expose mis-selling in her industry with a persistence and determination that angered others in her profession. “People say I am not collegiate,” she told The Financial Times last April, when she was still unknown outside the City.

Since then, her battle to force Theresa May to go to parliament before triggering Britain’s exit from the EU, has made her the figurehead of the resistance fighting a hard and fast Brexit. It has left her facing death threats so grave she says she seldom leaves the family home on weekends and racist abuse so heinous, she tells me, she no longer feels British.

The Sun has called her “Chief Brexit wrecker”. The press has emphasised her wealth and the fact she was born abroad. When the Supreme Court sided with Miller in January, The Daily Mail dedicated two pages to questioning her qualifications and business acumen, suggesting she was a “shameless self-publicist” and asking: “What’s the truth about Gina Miller?”

Daily Mail
The Daily Mail's front page on January 25 after Miller's Supreme Court victory

The 51-year-old mother-of-three rejects any claim she is desperate for publicity. She insists she never expected to be fighting this long. She says she launched her legal action expecting it to be over in a few months, after the High Court ruled in her favour, allowing her to return to running her business and charity foundation. She points out it was the courts, not her, that made her the lead claimant.

But this modesty doesn’t sit well with Miller’s history of ferocious campaigning, or her claim that she is doing this, in part, to minimise the threat of her children growing up to live through a “world war.”

After the referendum, she was appalled when the Government suggested it could bypass parliament and use Royal Prerogative to trigger Article 50, beginning the the formal process of leaving the EU.

Doubts about the Royal Prerogative

A self-described “history buff”, she feared what she called “Prerogative creep” of growing executive power. A Labour voter, she feared the party was in turmoil and unable to be an effective opposition. Having voted Remain, she felt a quick exit from the EU would be disastrous “when there are storms brewing in so many quarters.” 

A few days after the vote, she was on a panel about diversity in the City, hosted by law firm Mishcon de Reya. A senior partner asked her afterwards: “What else are you passionate about?” She started talking about her doubts about the Royal Prerogative and he asked her to come to a meeting the next day. Miller went and they drew up the pre-action letter for the case there and then.

Jack Sommers/HuffPost UK
Gina Miller during her HuffPost UK interview at her office in South Kensington

The threats that followed are the reason she can no longer go to her investment firm’s office.

The day her name entered the public consciousness was the day it started, she says. Miller was made the lead claimant on July 19. The court gave two other would-be claimants anonymity, as they feared the racist and anti-semitic abuse aimed at Mishcon de Reya.

After the hearing, Miller went to SCM Direct’s office off Sloane Square, the company she co-founded with her husband. “The mood in the office was very dampened and just odd. What had happened people had started phoning and emailing my office and were just... My staff were having to open hundreds of the most disgusting emails and the switch board was taking these unbelievable calls.”

Racism ‘changed everything’

We meet at a satellite office of her firm. As well as avoiding the main office, she has to avoid public transport and has special police patrols near her home. Two people have been arrested over threats made to Miller. Eight cease and desist have been issued. She tells me detectives are investigating a group of people saying she should be “the second Jo Cox.”

I’m told that I’m not even a human, I’m a primate. Therefore, I should be shot and beheaded. Gina Miller

The abuse and threats peaked in the days leading up the High Court’s ruling in November - when The Daily Mail called the judges “enemies of the people” - and the Supreme Court’s in January. Miller has described the abuse before but reciting it still derails her usual confidence.

“I’m told that I’m not even a human, I’m a primate. Therefore, I should be shot and beheaded. As a coloured woman, I have no right to speak up. The only profession I should do is on my back... There were Facebook campaigns to gang rape me. I’m told I should be hunted like a dog. It’s it’s beyond vile. It’s quite extraordinary.”

She is amazed how people will threaten her from personal email addresses, from which they can be traced. “I’ve even had threats on LinkedIn,” she says.

Peter Nicholls / Reuters
Miller leaves the Supreme Court after the third day of argument in December

The misogyny didn’t shock her, she says, adding she has always worked in a “very male dominated” world. The racism is what “ changed everything.” “It is not something I thought existed in the UK,” she says.

Miller has lived 80% of her life in Britain. She was born in what was then British Guyana in 1965 and was sent here aged 10 to escape the country’s political unrest. She has lived in Britain for all of her professional life, motherhood and most of her education. Now she “feels like a foreigner” here for the first time.

‘I now feel like a foreigner’

She says: “I didn’t think it was the Britain I lived in. I have never felt like a foreigner and I have never felt I was being thought of as being different. For the first time in seven months, I now feel like a foreigner. I don’t feel like I’m welcomed.

“I can’t decide if it was always there but we had managed to make it unacceptable or what’s happened is somehow Brexit has unleashed that Pandora’s Box.”

I have never felt like a foreigner and I have never felt I was being thought of as being different. For the first time in seven months, I now feel like a foreigner. I don’t feel like I’m welcomed." Gina Miller on the racist abuse and threats she has faced

Miller’s response is not to withdraw from public view but to make her case even more emphatically - and to even more people. She agreed to an interview with The Huffington Post UK without hesitation. Midway through it, she ducks out for another, telling Radio 5 Live what she just told me: that MPs who backed Remain but voted for Article 50 without any amendments failed to “vote with their conscience.”

‘Hindsight is an interesting thing’

She has already defended her case for seven months now, reciting how it was about the best process for Brexit, not preventing it, in countless interviews. She won’t stop, she tells me. “If I don’t speak up, then who will?”

So I am surprised when I ask whether she would still have pursued the case, if she had known about the abuse she would suffer. She sighs before answering. Miller never says “um” or “er” when defending her case but signs of doubt creep in when she discusses the abuse and its toll.

“Hindsight is an interesting thing,” she begins. “I think I would’ve gone through a much more of a... a sort of, like, a conversation with my family, with my husband in particular about what it would’ve meant to our family because it has changed our family life considerably... It changes the stress levels at home.”

She has to check her youngest children, aged 11 and 10, aren’t on social media, reading about what is happening. They have to have special security arrangements at school. But they have, at least, “actually quite liked mummy at home playing games and just being with them all the time.”

Having initially only thought the battle would take a few months, Miller feels she now has “nothing to lose” from continuing to speak out. The papers have “ransacked every part of my life... be it my reputation, my qualifications, my family, my past”, she says, singling out pro-Brexit papers like The Sun, Daily Express and Daily Mail. Miller has complained to the press watchdog about stories about her private life, saying she can’t say which stories they relate to until the investigations concluded.

Drinking the Brexit ‘Kool Aid’

Miller has previously called out papers for emphasising she is “foreign-born”, asking: “Where in the press do you ever see ‘foreign-born Boris Johnson?’” She tells me the tone of articles and the failure to censor comments posted underneath mean the press is “doing nothing short of inciting sexual and racial violence against me.”

“I have always abhorred bullies and I will not give in to them,” she says. “I was pretty tough before but the experiences of the abuse and the media have made me even tougher. I mean, I consider myself a rhinoceros now. I will not let people behave like this to me.”

She is still strident on Brexit. She calls it “fantastic” that the Lords have just voted to amend the Article 50 bill to protect EU citizens’ rights to remain here, after MPs “basically rubber stamped and didn’t do their duty.” Politicians, lawyers and public figures signed her open letter calling on parliament to have a full vote on the outcome of Article 50 negotiations, 18 months after they begin, and not just a vote on the final deal as May has has promised.

Brexit has become this Kool Aid that we’re supposed to all drink. If you don’t, then you are somehow the bad person. That can’t be right." Gina Miller

She initially believed “lots of other people were going to join in the debate and stand alongside me,” but says she thinks people fear being labelled anti-Brexit. Privately, people have been supportive, she notes. “But on a public platform, there’s a real fear that’s descended since Brexit. People worry about the backlash...

“You are seen as being this traitor [if you speak out]. Brexit has become this Kool Aid that we’re supposed to all drink. Then if you don’t, then you are somehow the bad person. That can’t be right. To say ‘if you speak out, you’re trying to stop Brexit’ is completely wrong and intellectually bankrupt.”

I ask if voting Remain makes it harder to deflect claims she’s trying to stop Brexit. “My case is not about Remain or Leave. It’s about the right way to leave. If you flip it another way, my case has given the Government the legal certainty to leave.

DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS via Getty Images
Miller believes Theresa May's Government kept fighting her in the courts to stall because it lacked a plan for Brexit

“If I hadn’t brought the case and they had triggered Article 50 without consulting, there could’ve been a raft of cases that popped up in the next two years, while they were negotiating.” She adds: “Politicians are always saying: ‘The Brexit ship has sailed.’ But would you ever get on a ship without a lifejacket?”

She calls May’s desire to trigger Article 50 without a parliamentary debate “puzzling”. She suspects part of the reason the Government fought her claim all the way to the Supreme Court was to stall so it come up with a plan on how to approach Brexit.

“They were hanging me out to dry because they didn’t have a plan... that’s the only conclusion I can come to.” As evidence, she cites the fact the Brexit White Paper was apparently still being written in the middle of the night the day before it was issued.

When Miller talks about politicians, she almost sounds like one. Would she ever become one? “No. I’d refuse to be whipped,” she says. “I think politics and the way we are today is very much more about doing what the party says, rather than what is best for your constituents.”

She acknowledges not everyone has the money, time and independence for the fight. “I don’t have to answer to any bosses because I am the boss. I feel a sense of responsibility because of the freedoms I have,” she says. “It’s my money and my decisions.”

I do not want any possibility that our children will grow up and face a world war. Gina Miller

The “bottom line” for doing this, she tells me is: “I do not want any possibility that our children will grow up and face a world war.” I suddenly have flashbacks of David Cameron, in what feels like a lifetime ago, being skewered for saying that Brexit made war more likely.

Miller continues: “If you think about everything that’s going on around the world - the posturing from Trump, the advancements of Russia, the Far Right in the mood music across the continent - we could end up in a place where we have nationalism and tribalism. That does lead to war.

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Anti-Brexit protesters outside the Supreme Court while Miller's case was being heard

“That’s what happens in the past. That’s how wars happen. You have inward-looking countries. That was one of the basic reasons for the union. We’ve enjoyed the longest period of stability and peace. Why would we not want our children to enjoy that?

“One of the arguments (for Brexit) is the UK is so great at security. But there’s a misunderstanding. Security and defence are two different things. We’re not good at defence. We are a small island and we don’t have defence capabilities.”

So does she think Brexit makes world war more likely? “I think it takes away some of the union, some of the ability to make us greater as a part of the whole,” she says. But, I ask, how does her case prevent world war, if her motive isn’t to stop Brexit altogether?

“It’s about ensuring there is respectful debate and everyone’s point of view and lives are represented. It’s not about division and hatred and ‘them and us’. My case is about process, transparency for the best possible outcome. Not people of different factions doing things in dark corners.”

A Sky News audience laughed at Cameron when he was asked whether Brexit would cause “world war three”, a phrase he had never used. Miller seems to have faith people will sit still long enough to let her explain the nuance of the argument that the EU makes the world more peaceful. Maybe she’s right about not being suited to becoming a politician.

Xinhua News Agency via Getty Images
Miller speaks outside the Supreme Court in January, after it ruled in her favour

When I ask what she will do after Article 50 is triggered, Miller says her case doesn’t end there. It’s about “making sure parliament is sovereign” right through until we have left, she tells me. “Article 50 gives Government the power to pull the trigger but until the bullet hits its target, you can’t possibly know the collateral damage,” she says. “I now have this platform and in the absence of a functioning or strong opposition, I think all of us have a duty.”

This is something Miller says again and again: everyone should be as active as her. Twice in our interview, she calls on people “from all walks of life” to step up. They must take a stand against the type of racism she suffered because “because people in power are not cutting it off quick enough”, she says. Later, she also says everyone should be thinking about how they can scrutinise the Government. But I don’t know many people as engaged, determined and bold as Miller. She concedes she was “rather naive” when she expected at first that lots of people to step up and join her.

Sense of responsibility

I wonder if she thinks she will ever get her normal life back. “If others take up the mantle and we have a strong opposition... then I wouldn’t need to say anything. I’d go back to the other things. I’ve got campaigns in the City and charity sector. I’m fighting what’s going wrong in the investment world... I’ve got quite a lot on my plate anyway.

“But at the moment I do have a sense of responsibility. My conscience will just simply not let me step back. I have to answer to my children. ‘What did you do mum?’ If I knew I had a voice and a place and I could’ve done something, I won’t be able to say to them: ‘I did the best I could’.”

I ask how her husband feels about it. But after the question comes out, she checks the time and says she has to leave because “they want me.” I repeat the question as she gets up. “He’s very supportive but he worries.. obviously he’s very worried about me.” She laughs nervously: “He should. He’s my husband.”

And with that, leaving me to make my own way out, she is off to anger people who want her to shut up and, most likely, spend another weekend indoors for fear of going outside.