Gina Miller: ‘Everyone’s a loser, apart from the Conservatives’
The anti-Brexit activist – hero to many, hate figure to others – says ‘we are in a dangerous time now’
Gina Miller. Photograph: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg
“I worry a lot,” says Gina Miller the business owner known variously as “the Brexit blocker”, “the arch remainer” and “the woman who took Boris on and won”.“I worry too much,’ she says. “It’s hard not to, we live in a dangerous time.”
One of the many intriguing things about Miller is the fact that her worries and fears, far from being paralysing, have been powerfully motivational.
It was her worry about the threat to democracy and the rule of law that led to her twice successfully taking the UK government to court. Both of these prolific, divisive victories – one in 2017 over Theresa May’s attempt to trigger article 50 without a debate and the other in late September over Boris Johnson’s suspension of the UK parliament – altered not only the trajectory of Brexit but Miller’s entire life.
The deluge of hate is horrific. As people have got more desperate, the abuse has got more desperate. So much of it is targeted at me being a woman of colour
And gave her a bit more to worry about: she became a hate figure (and a hero) overnight.
We meet inside a large office building on a famous London square that’s home to several companies including SCM Direct, the investment firm she runs with her husband of 15 years, Alan Miller.
Over an hour-long conversation, the wealthy 54-year-old entrepreneur, activist, former remain campaigner and philanthropist, raises concerns about a wide variety of issues including but not limited to Britain’s imminent departure from the EU: she worries about the rise of populism, the dangers of othering, the failure of trickle-down economics, the problem with too-narrow definitions of diversity and the scourge of domestic violence.
She says she spends her days thinking, analysing and meeting people, and her nights writing and reading. The ultimate “girly swot”, her list of worries is long and complex – she has an army of injustices marching through her head on this rainy afternoon in London.
Does she get much sleep? “No,” she says. “But I am very fortunate that I don’t need it. I function very well on four hours, I always have.”
Sipping water and coffee, Guyana-born Miller is dressed in the well-groomed uniform that’s become familiar to her fans and abusers – both are legion – whether she’s reading victory statements outside court or debating in TV studios. Today, she wears a stylish blue jacket with statement sleeves, and carefully pressed navy trousers. The look is elegant, but not intimidating.
In her book Rise: Lessons in Speaking Out Miller writes about using clothes as “armour”. She favours high heels because they make her feel she is “stepping up”.
And while some have observed a certain aloofness in her media persona, which she puts down to nerves and the seriousness of the matters at hand, she is generous and spirited in person. She laughs heartily when she talks about being contacted by media trainers, who wanted to fix Miller’s “warmth” problem. She didn’t engage them. “I am who I am,” she says.
In the tumultuous and for some euphoric aftermath of Miller’s historic supreme court victory announced by spider-brooch-wearing Lady Hale earlier this month, the abuse Miller has constantly received since her first court victory has escalated.
But she is hugely admired too. I tell her of the unanimously rapturous response from friends and colleagues in Ireland when I mentioned I’d be interviewing the woman one Brexit-obsessed female acquaintance calls “my hero”.
“It’s so easy to forget those lovely voices and that kindness,” she says. “The deluge of hate is horrific. As people have got more desperate, the abuse has got more desperate, and it’s at a level I never, ever imagined. So much of it is targeted at me being a woman of colour, it’s quite extraordinary . . . suddenly it’s acceptable and I wonder how we get back from that.”
I went through a phase when I was a teenager thinking there was something wrong with me. Because when something terrifying happens, I don’t panic
In response to ongoing threats to Miller and her family, the locks in her home were changed and panic buttons installed. Her children – she has a daughter of 11, a son of 14 and another adult daughter who has special needs – had to be taken through the new security routine.
Despite now having multiple panic buttons in her house, she says she’s never been one to panic – even in the face of death threats while out shopping with her young daughter, a recent harrowing experience. Was this stoicism something she learned at home in her birth country Guyana, from her father who was a barrister and later attorney general of that country?
She does cite her father as an important influence but also suggests this implacability is something more innate: “I went through a phase when I was a teenager thinking there was something wrong with me. Because when something terrifying happens, I don’t panic. When someone is being really awful to me, I don’t listen to their words, I look at their face and their eyes. I see them. I don’t listen to them. I don’t know what it is – it’s just me.”
Whatever the source, it’s a useful, sanity-preserving trait in her current circumstances. She has been informed by strangers through various mediums that they want to gang-rape her and slit the throats of her “mongrel” children. (Her husband is Jewish.) She’s been called an “ape” and a “whore” and told she would be “the next Jo Cox”, the murdered Labour MP. Back in July 2017, an aristocrat who wrote a Facebook post offering money to anyone who ran Miller over was sentenced to 12 weeks in prison.
Where does she find the strength to keep going when others could not? The two “very well-known”, wealthy men who initially went forward alongside her over the article 50 case dropped out when they saw the abuse she and her law firm Mishcon de Reya were receiving.
“I am pretty tough,” she says. “I am not inflexible, I am not hard. But I am tough. It’s different to being hard or brave or fearless. And I know other people don’t have that toughness. So I can share it. I can speak up for them.
“I’ve got four siblings and I’m not like them . . . The experiences of my life gave me an even stronger sense of fighting for what is fair . . . the hatred doesn’t land on me, perhaps because of what I’ve been through in my life”.
Gina Miller has been through a lot. She moved to England from Guyana aged 11 and was badly bullied at boarding school. When aged 13, her parents were unable to send money from Guyana and Miller took a job cleaning hotel rooms. Later, having moved to London to study law, she was viciously attacked in the street by fellow students, and as a result never went back to finish her degree.
Her daughter from her first marriage was deprived of oxygen at birth and when that marriage failed there were lean years fighting for her disabled daughter’s rights and trying to eke out a living as a single mother in her 20s. She eventually built a successful career as a marketing consultant.
Miller has written and spoken about alleged physical and emotional abuse in her marriage to her second husband, banker Jon Maguire. Describing the relationship, she says “it gets to a point where you don’t know if day is night or night is day, you feel broken and drowning. You put your make-up on, nobody believes you. It’s an incredibly lonely place.”
Maguire has denied any abuse and suggested Miller had a drink problem. She laughs in response to this, saying she wouldn’t be able to have held her life together in the way she has if she had an issue with alcohol.
The point, she says, is that these difficult life experiences – she fled with her daughter from the home she shared with Maguire – instead of diminishing her, left her with an even stronger passion for justice and fairness.
It’s hard not to be impressed by Miller. She’s an immigrant who has stood strong in the face of threats, racism, misogyny and lies – she is accused of receiving funding from George Soros. “I wish,” she says smiling. Her court cases were funded by her own money, crowdfunding and the proceeds from her book.
I just can’t bear the idea that there are people in power not understanding that their decisions are going to leave people without the ability to put food on their table
Travelling around Britain in early 2016 campaigning for remain, she was astute enough to see which way the Brexit wind was blowing but was sidelined by that campaign when she warned they would lose with their “facts-and-figures” approach.
Her True and Fair Campaign, set up in 2012, lobbies for transparency in the City of London’s fund management industry, so she has plenty of enemies there too. She is a failed law student – she laughs when I say it – who cleverly used the law to stand up for what she believed was right.
Does she ever switch off? “I love dancing, a few weekends ago I took three days off, after the court case . . . we went to the end-of-season party in Ibiza,” she says, laughing. “I could dance all night. I am South American. It’s in my blood, I can’t help it. And I love climbing. I am an adrenalin freak; it’s difficult for me to mentally switch off. I drive quite fast too. I have to physically be concentrating on something.”
What makes her angry? “I just can’t bear the idea that there are people in power not understanding that their decisions are going to leave people without the ability to put food on their table. I have been there. I know what it is like . . . to not be able to feed your children and to not have hope. How dare they be so self-interested?”
On this week’s Brexit negotiations, she thinks ultimately, if Boris Johnson gets a withdrawal agreement through, the Conservative Party will be the only winners. “If you look at it through the lens of the Conservative Party, they win . . . I am gutted because it’s not a prime minister we voted for, the withdrawal agreement won’t be what leavers were promised. Wherever you are on the spectrum, everyone is a loser apart from the Conservative Party.”
Not surprisingly, Miller’s family worry about her, especially her mother who lately has been saying, “Gina, you can stop now, haven’t you done enough?”
It’s tough. I cry a lot more than I did before because I’m tired. Physically, my back goes. I don’t look after myself
It sounds, though, like Miller will never be finished. “I will carry on for as long as I can,” she says. When abuse happens, she tells her children about the importance of fighting “the good fight, no matter what the personal cost”.
“It’s tough,” she says. “I cry a lot more than I did before because I’m tired. Physically, my back goes. I don’t look after myself, even though that’s what I tell young women activists to do. So pot, kettle, black. We are in a really dangerous time now . . . I am willing to be the voice, I can speak up.”
She is looking forward to a trip to Dublin on November 7th to speak to hundreds of women at Gloss magazine’s Look the Business event.
She will talk about persistence: “You have to try,” she says. “I thought I’d fail, everybody kept telling me I’d fail . . . but I don’t live my life with a safety net thinking ‘well I am only going to do this if I succeed’ . . . I am already setting myself up for failure by factoring in failure, so I don’t do that.”
She also wants to tell women “never apologise for who you are. Be comfortable in your own voice and your own skin.
“Women have a real power. Not just as mothers or wives or raising children but the ability, I think, to spread kindness. The thing that is missing from the world at the moment is the thing we are naturally capable of doing,” she says.
The Gloss Magazine’s Look the Business event in association with Vodafone will be held on November 7th at the RDS. It is booked out