The triggering of Article 50 this week marked the beginning of Britain’s uncoupling from the European Union. Gina Miller, the UK business owner, became well-known when she launched a crowdfunded court case against the UK government, over the role of Parliament in the Brexit process. The day after Theresa May triggered Article 50, In the Long Run’s Hettie O’Brien spoke to the businesswoman and philanthropist about her hopes for the negotiations.
Hettie O’Brien: Initiating the Article 50 court case was a remarkable crusade against Brexit. What motivated you to bring the the case against the British government?
Gina Miller: I have to say my motivation was much more fundamental than just Brexit. To me, it was the thought that in triggering Article 50 without giving a vote to parliament, the government were about to do something that sets a precedent which would have put us back 400 years when it comes to constitutional law - they would have undone the very foundations of our constitution by using the royal prerogative on the domestic arena. The case wasn’t about Brexit … It was about how the government was, basically, seeking to power grab.
HO: The case saw you battling a torrent of racial abuse and hatred, including from the press. Do you think the referendum has left us more divided as a nation?
GM: I think there are so many worrying elements to this. The idea that this hatred is just about keyboard warriors or a few people in certain media outlets is just not true. I’ve had the most awful sexual, racist and death threats from people who’ve sent me letters on beautifully expensive stationary, with wonderful handwriting, but the most poisonous words. That’s what shocked me - the fact that this hatred crosses all educational ranges and socioeconomic backgrounds.
This says something very fundamental about our society. It asks two questions. Was it always there, and just became improper? Or, did Brexit, and the politics of envy, blame, and division, cause it?
HO: Do you think the idea of the 48% mentality is useful? What should remainers be doing at this point?
GM: We have to discover new rhetoric. As long as we fuel these divisive messages, the more we give people ammunition to beat us with. It has to be about moving forwards now - it can’t be about remain or leave, because as of yesterday we’ve left.
HO: What are you hoping to see from the Brexit negotiations?
GM: The government has no idea - Theresa May’s speech yesterday was filled with misinformation and mistruths.
HO: Like what?
GM: Mrs May said that she was looking forward to negotiating the new relationship at the same time as we were negotiating our exit. But that is not possible. You have to do one, and then the other. The idea that we could negotiate a free trade deal at the same time is misleading. Or, the idea that we will have the same trading relationship. Those things are not possible.
I’m hoping that the government can come to a place that’s far more realistic about the process and the time required. If you strip back the two years, it’s actually 18 months. Because of the elections in France and Germany, hard negotiations won’t begin until autumn this year. This actually only gives us ten months to undo 40 years of membership. That is impossible.
HO: I’m sure a lot of people have been asking this, but do you have any plans to move into politics?
GM: (Laughs). Absolutely not - but one of the things I will keep doing is playing that role of transparency and accountability. I think everyone should be concerned that we don’t have a fully functioning opposition in this process that can hold the government to account.
Already, the government is talking about using another ancient power called the Henry VIII clause, which will basically undermine the constitution, undermine parliamentary sovereignty, and undermine democracy.
In that vacuum of a functioning oppositional scrutiny, it has to be up to the public to hold the government to account. We have to all work towards a meaningful vote when that negotiation package comes back. That means either going back and negotiating so it’s not just a bad deal or a no deal, or, accepting that we won’t be leaving.
That’s what a meaningful vote is. It means that you discuss and debate all the options on the table.