By George Cook
After Britain’s decision to leave the European Union in 2016, some were feeling disheartened and concerned about the future of the country economically, socially and politically. Gina Miller has been a figurehead for those who embody such concerns, using her business experience to challenge what she sees as some of the biggest injustices of the 21st century.
Born in Guyana, she moved to Eastbourne with her brother leaving her parents at home. Whilst attending school, she worked in hotels and other businesses to provide for herself as her parents were unable to send money over. This clearly gave her the grounding from an early age to be successful in various aspects of her life whether in business or the charity sector.
Ms Miller took on the beast of government and won, which enforced a parliamentary vote on the triggering of Article 50 and she has launched numerous other challenges against those in power to help protect and solve big issues facing local communities.
This interview was a chance to talk about her views on Brexit, the process itself and her opinion on society in its current form.
Brexit is what Ms Miller’s True and Fair Foundation, which was founded in 2009, is most renowned for especially after the high-profile legal case against the government. However, she also stated how ‘the foundation is primarily aimed at community projects and charities who look to reverse some of the worse trends that are happening in society, and it’s something where we proactively go and look for projects and fund them for three to five years.’ Covering a wide range of issues, she said they ‘vary from the environment, social justice to the lack of access to legal aid, child abuse, and there tends to be 10-15 issues we focus on each year’.
In 2015, Miller’s foundation spent over £135,000 helping smaller charities tackle issues in their local area and she has a long history in public service championing philanthropic causes from an early age.
To discover what the big problems are, the foundation constantly focuses on what is happening within local communities. Ms Miller stated, ‘I have thousands of GPs, people on the ground telling me what’s actually happening at the coalface because we don’t really hear about the really tough and dangerous stuff unless you go out and find out about it, and you have to rely on people in the community to tell you what’s going on.’ Gina Miller seemed extremely concerned that ‘for a civilised, wealthy country we have got some real pockets of poverty here.’
The Windrush Scandal has been engulfing British politics for several weeks now. However, since this interview took place, Amber Rudd has resigned as Home Secretary and there has been increasing pressure on the Prime Minister, Theresa May. Ms Miller stated, ‘we have been trying to get the Windrush Scandal in the press for four years, and we’ve known about this for a long time and been trying to get more and more attention. It’s only because the Guardian were brave enough that we actually know about this.’
It is remarkable that the appalling treatment of migrants who helped rebuild this country after the war actually occurred in the first place. But it is even more worrying that those in power were trying to cover it up for so long, and without the work of Gina Miller and countless others it would probably still be clocked in secrecy under a veil of corruption.
The other issue she said her foundation have been trying to get into the public domain is ‘that if you left Britain and retired to a Commonwealth country you had your pension frozen, and this has affected over 120,000 people.’ Along with Windrush, this scandal has had a significant impact on Commonwealth citizens with many people’s pensions remaining static. In an article in the Times, one lady’s pension is £17 a week, when it should be £122. This has occurred for over 70 years, and cruelly forces many people to relocate back to the UK away from the lives and families they built abroad. Like Windrush, this is something that should never have happened and needs to be rectified immediately.
Ms Miller stated how she thinks ‘all of these are a symptom, and if you look also at Universal Credit and what’s going on there, of the entirely different culture within government which is in the name of saving money they’ve lost their humanity.’
Linked to this culture, she stated ‘that the closer I’ve got to politics, I’ve realised how little people get thought about, it really is about the party and power, and how did we get to this place?’ Miller seemed genuinely concerned about the current political system in the UK but did state how ‘one of the unintended good consequences of Brexit is that there are now more discussions about our electoral system.’ She added, ‘politics has become a closed shop.’
Through Brexit, Ms Miller said she wants to focus on three big areas. ‘One is on devolution and localism because we need to have more devolved policy and financial powers sitting in local governments. The second is that there is a conversation to be had about codifying some of our constitution, especially around human rights. The third thing is about fashioning a system that encourages a diverse breadth of people to get into politics because it’s just too narrow, especially from an educational perspective.’
However, her first focus may prove difficult to achieve here in Wales because of Plaid Cymru’s stance on Brexit. In response, she said ‘I think you have to be really practical about all of this. If we end up leaving, Westminster doesn’t have the capacity to deal with all the powers that are going to be repatriated back to Westminster, so as a necessity I think you’ll see more powers being devolved.’
But would everyone want this? Ms Miller stated how ‘young people seem to have a real moral compass on this and they want to see things in their own backyards.’ She admitted that this is one of the biggest opportunities from Brexit and she did link how the EU Referendum campaign has resulted in more people becoming involved in politics. She added, ‘we can’t underestimate this, and it has made people really wake up.’
After the Referendum, some of those who were extremely saddened with the vote began to identify as being European more so than being British. However, Ms Miller was keen to distance herself from this trail of thought stating, ‘British- I’ve always felt British first, and I’ve never thought of myself as being European.’
She carried on by moving the discussion towards whether the EU needs to be changed in its current formation stating, ‘I do ultimately think the EU needs reforming and there does need to be reform.’ Miller continued, ‘But on balance, my decision for remaining was about security because I just think there is more protection in us being part of a bigger bloc in a world that is becoming more volatile.’
Summing up her reasons for voting remain she said, ‘I would always come down on the side of remain because of the security rather than any sense of nationalism or economics.’
Recently, Ms Miller has advocated her support for the possibility of a people’s vote on the final deal and when asked if this could make the situation never-ending she said, ‘no I don’t think so because the politicians have got themselves into a cul-de-sac.’ She added, ‘I don’t think politicians should have given the people the vote in the first place in the Referendum, but if you allow people to start the journey, you’re gonna have to let them finish it.’
In the event of a people’s vote, she said all options need to be on the table and on the ballot paper in any future referendum, there needs to be the options of ‘the deal, leave with no deal or remain.’ Miller added, ‘then whatever the decision is, you have to draw a line under it and say we’ve gotta get on with this.’
However, Brexiteers are critical of this approach and also of the House of Lords who in their eyes are trying to prevent Britain’s withdrawal from the EU and disrespect the will of the people. Last week, Jacob Rees-Mogg stated how it’s ‘peers against the people, their Lordships are playing with fire.’
Miller responded stating, ‘Rees-Mogg is possibly the most irresponsible person I can think of. The House of Lords is there as a scrutiny chamber and it’s there to do exactly what it’s doing it.’ She continued, ‘for him to be disrespecting the House of Lords makes you wonder how much he values our democracy because actually part of having two Houses is how the mother of Parliament actually got its place in the world.’
On the idea of the will of the people, Ms Miller said how ‘the will of people is a social construct that was come up with by Brexiteers because democracy does not work with one vote, one time and that’s it. Democracy is about reviewing where we are.’ Rather chirpily she added, ‘I would suggest to Mr Rees-Mogg that if Labour had won the last election then why did they have another election, they should have just let Labour stay in power forever.’
Moving forward in a society that is plagued by the problems Gina Miller’s foundation are trying to fight is going to be no easy task, and nor is the process of Brexit. Whilst I do not agree with her on everything, I greatly admire how hard she has worked throughout her life to help those who are the most disadvantaged in society and to challenge the current political system.
And to create a better society, Miller, directing her words at young people, said: ‘Politics is not something that happens somewhere else, it affects every single part of your life and you have to get involved in it. But if your view is different to someone else’s, then have a debate and a civilised conversation.’