By Dan Morrison
Gina Miller: she is an “enemy of the people” and she has won two court cases that force Parliament to debate beginning the process of leaving the EU.
So what’s she all about?
Born in Guyana and educated in Britain, she went on to become an investment manager and a philanthropist.
In 2012 she set up a campaign against mis-selling and hidden fund charges in the City of London’s fund management industry. This campaign came on the back of the True and Fair Foundation, which supports charities with funding. As “conscious capitalists”, the Foundation aims to help communities and is concerned with the excesses of capitalism.
While on one occasion it was alleged she “would bring down the entire City”, Edi Truell saw it differently: “As for her City ‘career’ she would like to think she was rocking the City to its core. The reality is…yawn…who?”
Truell, a pro-Brexit financial entrepreneur who was appointed Head of London Pension Authority by Boris Johnson, argued Miller was “[u]tterly unknown in the City before she grabbed headlines with her anti-democratic stance. Typical remoaner refusing to accept the referendum result.”
It was with this “anti-democratic stance” that she entered the public consciousness.
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On June 23rd 2016, Britain voted to leave the European Union, 51.9% voting “Leave”. More people voted in favour of Leave than had voted for anything before in the UK: “Remain” is second on that list.
To leave the EU, a state must trigger Article 50. Article 50 contains the rules for exit and triggering it formally notifies the EU that UK wants to leave. Once triggered, there is a two year window after which the UK will have negotiated some sort of deal and actually left the EU.
Miller, seeing that the vote “would change the fundamental rights of citizens”, pursued the case because she thought that such a change needed a parliamentary vote. Others saw her claim of feeling “physically sickened” by the referendum outcome and argued that her case was nothing more than an anti-Brexit crusade.
Following the referendum, Miller filed her case at the high court The dispute was over whether authority for formally declaring the UK’s withdrawal lay with parliament or ministers- the high court ruled that government does not have the power. The cased moved on to the Supreme Court.
Here, as BBC explained, the government’s lawyers argued that “royal prerogative” gave ministers the power to trigger Article 50; that the referendum result gave ministers the power to withdraw from the treaty; and that parliament would have taken ministers’ power away if it had wanted to. Royal prerogative is the executive power that used to belong to the monarch, but over the centuries passed to elected parliament.
Miller’s team argued instead that the 2015 Referendum Act didn’t give them any powers at all, let alone the power to change the constitution. Government also couldn’t show that Parliament actually handed over power to ministers during the 1972 act- which saw European law become UK law- and that parliament’s silence on the issue doesn’t mean ministers are in control.
24th January, the court ruled 8 votes to 3 that parliament must vote on whether government can trigger Article 50. The court ruled that when the UK withdraws from EU treaties, an independent source of UK law is being removed- the source being EU institutions- and that the rights of UK citizens will change. Constitutional arrangements means that the changes need parliament’s authorisation.
1st February, Parliament voted with a majority of 384 to allow Theresa May to begin Brexit negotiations.
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Throughout this process, the backlash against Miller has stood out. Often, the opposition she faced became more of a story than what she was actually doing.
The merits and detractions of her case did not matter- it was that she dared to take the case that did.
There are two strands of opposition. The main one was a disheartening cocktail of hyperbole and nonsense, with two shots of ignorance: one genuine, one wilful. Miller was attacked for not accepting the referendum result, for defying the “will of the people” and on the basis that defying the “will of the people” was necessarily undemocratic.
It saw the judges on the ruling branded “enemies of the people” and roundly attacked for their ruling. After the initial high court ruling four newspapers ran front pages attacking the judges, seemingly unaware that an independent judiciary is quite a good thing (I refer you to Turkey, Hungary, Egypt among others if you are unconvinced).
These attacks all overlooked the fact that her case made no claim about the referendum result, but was specifically about the way we leave the EU- she was working with the referendum result.
The smaller one was the depressing, often bewilderingly premeditated abuse that is the hallmark of scum, trolls and dickheads. Gina Miller received a smorgasbord of the stuff, from the racist and sexist to death and rape threats.
The personal attacks varied from the press having to mention that she was “foreign-born”, to being threatened with being hung, shot, and gang-raped.
She is only one woman, but police have had to issues cease and desist orders against eight different people.
Metro reported that somebody had offered £5000 to kill her. As a result of the barrage of abuse and threats, she has been advised not to use public space and public transport, and now had personal bodyguards.
Miller’s experience in the courts has neatly captured what many thought about Brexshit, that it was never really about what people said it was and that it would unleash loathsome forces.
It was the British law applied by British judges that they wanted but when they got it, they changed their position to attack this as undemocratic. Rallying for “the people” is dumb and a misunderstanding of democracy, but people also felt it gave them the power to mount personal attacks on Miller.
Mob mentality and attacking democratic institutions is a worrying start to our post-referendum future.
Do we have any clue how democracy is supposed to work?
This article will also appear on trentarthur.ca