‘Neither side had a plan’ Gina Miller tells audience

Gina Miller, who took the Government to court to insist the decision to leave the EU should be Parliament’s, not the Government’s, spoke to a packed house at our event last week. She told the audience in the Boston Room at George IV that when she was on the referendum trail in October 2015, speaking for the Remain campaign, it was clear to her that neither side had a plan. She said what has shocked her since is the level of ignorance among our politicians. “I thought they were better informed about our relationship with Europe and our own parliamentary process… David Davis didn’t understand how the EU works.”

Asked by BBC politics presenter Jo Coburn whether she regretted doing what she’d done, (in reference to the impasse last week in parliament)  she said “No, because it’s bigger than Brexit.” Getting involved in politics has caused her immense grief in the form of a torrent of abuse and death threats. She writes in her book ‘Rise’ that she opens the mail herself as her staff find it so distressing to read that she’s a whore and an ape and should bye raped and lynched.

She also explained what had made her so resilient; an upbringing with parents who instilled in her the imperative to ‘do the right thing’, her father a criminal barrister who rose to become Guyana’s Attorney General. She and her brother were sent to school in England. When she was 14, Guyana introduced currency restrictions which left them without enough money to live on, so she worked two hours in hotel as a chambermaid each morning before starting her day at school. She has married three times and spent years as a single mother bringing up her very disabled daughter alone before meeting her current husband Alan. So although she is well off now, she takes exception to the ‘rich bitch’ label she’s given a lot.

Her view on a second referendum is that “it would be an absolute nightmare … It’ll be about fear and poison and that’s not where we should be going”. Her preference would be for parliament to decide, and for there to be a second referendum “only if every other avenue is exhausted, because we are a representative democracy.” But she doesn’t have much confidence in Theresa May’s leadership or the integrity of MPs: “There are many people who have been putting solutions to the Government” she said, but those solutions have fallen on deaf ears. “What we need is vision” she said. “MPs are not just their to reflect their communities. They’re there to shape our communities.” It was their job, she said, to explain the reality of what leaving the EU means. “The people who told you it’s as easy as falling off a log were wrong and they should have told people that was not the case’. She put the ‘incompetence’ of our MPs down to the failings inherent in our political system which “is quite a closed club. It’s quite nepotistic. There needs to be more mentoring in public life.”

“I think we’ve had two main parties who’ve been careless for far too long. They haven’t really looked after the country. They’ve looked after themselves… They’re not progressive enough for the problems we face.” She said Theresa May had been promoted beyond her ability but that she had also been given an impossible task. “Leadership qualities are about being flexible, not rigid and you have to be a strategist. She’s not a strategist.” In the general election “the electorate thought the Conservatives were going for a soft Brexit.” Jeremy Corbyn she said had allowed his party to fall victim to ‘entryism’ and failed to deal with the problem of antisemitism within the party. Nor had he represented the will of those who voted for him. “The 2.5 million young people who voted for Labour thought they were voting for a Remain party.”

Asked whether she would go in to politics herself, she said she could be more effective outside the party system.

Photographs by Jon Perry