Gina Miller on her Brexit legal challenge: 'This had to be done'

The woman who put Theresa May’s plans for leaving the EU in peril is convinced she has done the right thing, despite the vitriol

The businesswoman at the centre of the legal challenge to ensure parliament is consulted before Theresa May triggers Brexit has said the landmark case was motivated by her fear that the UK faced a “treacherous future”.

In an interview with the Guardian, Gina Miller said she knew the ruling would leave her unpopular with many EU referendum voters, but believed that the UK had failed itself and the rest of Europe by voting to leave the bloc rather than reform it from within.

“I was never binary remain or leave. I was very much of the sentiment, and still am, that it was about remain, reform and review,” Miller said. “The UK actually has a very powerful place in Europe ... and we have not just let ourselves down but I think the whole of Europe down by not taking up that challenge.”

Before launching her case, the 51-year-old who runs the investment firm SCM Private with her husband, Alan, had spent a decade campaigning for transparency in investment and pension funds, and for reform in the charity sector. “I’ve stood up and made myself very unpopular,” she said. “But it’s not about being unpopular, it’s about doing the right thing.”

Miller told the Guardian she felt compelled to take some form of action following the referendum result in June, hiring City law firm Mishcon de Reya with her own money. “I simply couldn’t keep going to bed every night thinking, well what does [the Brexit vote] mean for my children, what does this mean for the future, what does it mean for everyone?” Miller said. “Knowing that there was no plan in place, and knowing that we were really facing a treacherous future ... I just felt I had no other alternative.”

The anxiety that Miller felt after the referendum result was shared by many – but most people did not summon their lawyers and launch a high-profile court case. “It’s just in my nature, it’s what I do,” Miller said. “I tend to stand up and speak up when I see something dysfunctional happening.”

Her previous campaigns may have made her unpopular in certain circles – she told the Times last month she was known as the “black widow spider” by some in the City. But that is nothing compared to the vitriol and even death threats she has been exposed to since emerging as the principal legal challenger to the government’s Brexit plans. Following the court ruling, people took to social media describing her as a “foreign-born” “rich bitch” and asking who she thought she was.

She would not discuss the abuse she has received in detail. “It’s been considerable,” she said. “All I will say is that people who wanted to support me have done so quietly rather than audibly because they’re frightened.”

Miller is from Guyana but has lived in the UK since she was 10. Asked whether she believed a white man would have received similar levels of hate she laughed, not entirely mirthfully. “No,” she replied. “The simple answer: absolutely no.”

The reticence of others to publicly support her had been disheartening at times. “But overall it empowers me to think that this is exactly why I need to do this, because we have to come together,” she said. “We can’t have this fractured society that’s resulting at the moment.”

Miller has experienced both poverty and affluence: born in what was then British Guiana, she was sent to the UK by her parents to attend Roedean, the prestigious Sussex boarding school, but ran away after being bullied, she told the Times – an experience she said “made me steely very early”.

She has described herself as a “driven misfit” who at one stage aspired to be a barrister but was told “the criminal bar was not the place for a woman”.

She married young and had a disabled daughter, now in her late 20s, who still lives with her. She had two more children in her early 40s with Alan, her third husband. At various stages of her career she has been a chambermaid, a model and an entrepreneur. “I have always been drawn to male-dominated industries and adrenaline-filled pursuits,” she has written.

Facing scores of reporters and TV crews on the steps of the Royal Courts of Justice following the judgment, Miller was unruffled. “The result today is about all of us, it’s not about me or my team,” she said. “It’s about our UK and all our futures ... This case was about process, not politics.”

Miller denies her lawsuit is trying to reverse the referendum. “I don’t think that’s possible,” she told the Guardian. Instead, she says it is an attempt to gain legal clarity over whether the government is entitled to trigger article 50, or whether this must be approved by parliament.

“All the people who have been saying ‘we need to take back control’, ‘we need sovereignty’, well you can’t have it with one hand and then with the other say, ‘I’m going to bypass it now and not seek consultation from the representatives in parliament,’” she said. “You just can’t have it both ways.

“Everyone who voted – leave, remain, whatever it was – did so wanting to change things for the better and they’re feeling frustrated and I completely understand that.”

But she added: “Unless we have the legal certainty to know what we’re doing as we go forward is binding, then who knows what the future will have in store for us? We could be walking into so many legal challenges and nightmares. Isn’t it better that the legal certainty is ruled [on] now rather than later?”

Miller also has philanthropic projects, including the True and Fair Campaign for transparency and scrutiny of pension funds.

She told the Guardian she viewed the legal action as a form of public service. “One of my doctrines, my central principles of my life has been what I call conscious capitalism ... I’ve worked for everything I’ve had, and I can’t think of a better way of using it than standing up for what’s right, and what’s required to build a better society. So for me it’s an extension very much of my philanthropic work.”

Miller is funding her case from her own pocket, although she will not discuss how much she has spent so far or how much she expects to spend. “It’s been way beyond just monetary,” she said. And now she faces a final push as the case heads to the supreme court on 5 December, leapfrogging the court of appeal.

Although jubilant about the high court’s ruling, she said she was disappointed at the speed with which the government announced it would appeal “rather than taking time to read the full judgment and consider their position”. She said: “I just really don’t see where they would get anything different in the supreme court from what they’ve got today.”

Miller was more certain than ever that her legal challenge was the right thing to do. “I’ve never walked away – and actually what has unfolded, the level of division has meant it’s made me even [more convinced] there was no alternative,” she said. “This had to be done.”

Contributor

Alice Ross

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Gina Miller to launch tactical voting initiative against hard Brexit
Campaigner whose legal challenge forced No 10 to seek parliamentary approval for article 50 sets out Best For Britain plan

Dan Roberts Brexit policy editor

19, Apr, 2017 @4:39 PM

Article image
Gina Miller: the woman taking on Theresa May over article 50
The investment manager bidding to stop May triggering Brexit without MPs’ approval is used to holding the powerful to account. Just ask her City colleagues

Alexandra Topping

13, Oct, 2016 @4:06 PM

Article image
Gina Miller: 'I’ve been told that "as a coloured woman", I’m not even human'
In an interview with the Guardian, the lead claimant in the supreme court case speaks about the price she has had to pay for taking on the government

Lisa O'Carroll

25, Jan, 2017 @6:00 AM

Article image
Gina Miller afraid to leave her home after threats of acid attacks
Brexit legal challenger fears she may have to leave the UK if anxiety over her family’s security becomes too much to bear

Lisa O'Carroll Brexit correspondent

09, Aug, 2017 @6:18 PM

Article image
Court battle looms over Brexit legality
Senior judges will hear claims that the government cannot trigger article 50 without parliamentary approval

Owen Bowcott Legal affairs correspondent

13, Oct, 2016 @8:29 AM

Article image
Gina Miller raises £300,000 for candidates to oppose hard Brexit
Campaigner aims to support up to 100 pro-Europeans in general election through crowdfunding

Lisa O'Carroll

26, Apr, 2017 @10:29 AM

Article image
Government given two weeks to respond to Brexit legal challenge
Group representing Britons living in EU countries argues referendum was not fair vote

Owen Bowcott Legal affairs correspondent

17, Aug, 2018 @10:45 AM

Article image
Brexit: UK government faces legal challenge over single market
Lawyers to argue that parliament should have a say over whether Britain could remain in European Economic Area

Anushka Asthana and Jennifer Rankin

28, Nov, 2016 @6:17 PM

Article image
Stormont assembly's consent required before Brexit, court told
Process of leaving European Union would involve ‘driving a wedge’ between Northern Ireland and Irish Republic, lawyers argue

Owen Bowcott Legal affairs correspondent

07, Dec, 2016 @7:35 PM

Article image
No-deal Brexit would spawn 'legal morass and economic disaster'
Experts predict widespread, damaging and pervasive effects on Britain if no agreement is reached before planned EU exit in 2019

Heather Stewart

19, Jul, 2017 @11:01 PM