As the deadline looms closer, Gina Miller – the high-achieving woman who led and won a court challenge over the legality of Britain's proceedings to exit the European Union – is still wrestling with the complex challenges posed by the United Kingdom's historic vote.
A newly published autobiographical book written by the investment fund manager attempts to tackle the fundamental questions that drove her to take a public stand following the 2016 referendum – and how her actions sparked a fierce debate not only over the triggering of Article 50 (the formal notification to leave the EU), but over identity, multiculturalism, race and belonging.
Having become a lightning rod for both Brexiters and remainers, Miller is seen to still be mourning a vision of the country she imagined growing up in the former colony of British Guiana.
Like many Brexiters, her view of Britain is idealistic. "I was brought up to believe that Great Britain was the promised land," the 53-year-old author writes in her book Rise: Life Lessons in Speaking Out, Standing Tall & Leading the Way. "A culture where the rule of law was observed and decency was embedded in the national fabric." For Miller, born Gina Singh, the country's progress as a European nation is part and parcel of the country's appeal.
“I wanted to write this book so that my children could live in the Britain that we all love: the Britain that is tolerant, inclusive and cherishes free speech,” she wrote.
Miller questions whether hers is an attempt to rescue the imaginary Britain she built in her mind, and whether this country actually ever existed. “Is that really who we are?” she writes, after narrating the story of a Pakistani boy who tried to scrape the colour of his skin off his body as a consequence of being bullied.
Clearly shaken by the rise of hate crimes and racist rhetoric in the wake of the vote, she decries both the impact on her own life and that of others. “Our only hope for progress is to seek to understand each other, to find the common ground rather than that which sets us apart,” Miller writes.
Rise contains details of the threats she received, of how strangers informed her of wanting "to gang-rape me and slit the throats of my children." It also narrates her private struggles including dealing with sexual assault, the birth of a child with special needs, the collapse of a marriage, and how she learnt from these challenges to then "rise again".
The battle she has now become part of is clearly bigger, and her book is a call to arms. The author said in an interview that her struggle is no longer about Brexit, it is about “saving this country.” In fact, just like Brexit, it is about identity, belonging and multiculturalism – and how both sides of the Remain-Leave divide have plunged into a deep existential crisis.
Her father, a barrister who would become the country’s attorney general, instilled in her a sense of moral duty and justice, while a Commonwealth education and boarding school in the UK bolstered the image the empire wanted to give of itself. Growing up in a well-known and wealthy family, in a home where pictures of the Queen hung on the walls and BBC radio played every night, she begun to think “Britain was the highest pinnacle of all that was best in the world.”
The decision to take to the High Court on November 3, 2016, and uphold the sovereignty of the parliament against Britain’s own government stemmed from a desire to make the country live up to its own standards.
“The victors are our constitution, our laws, and, I would argue, our way of life,” she wrote at the time. Ironically, Miller – a product of decades of British colonial assimilation – is today the ultimate “other” Brexiters want to see less of: a woman of colour who, while being “foreign-born”, challenges the government and attempts to stir the nation’s destiny. Her critics accused her of being “an agent of powerful monied forces that object to the British People deciding to leave the European Union” and issued a petition against her book that gained over 3,000 signatures before it was even written.
A Conservative member of the UK parliament, John Redwood, argued her legal challenge delayed the country’s exit by nine months, which costs the state an additional £9 billion (Dh42.6 bn).
While the author denied her legal actions were designed to frustrate the UK’s exit from the European Union, threats of acid attacks, rape and murder made her unable to leave her home at all.
While she may be foreign- born, Miller alone pursued the overriding British law principle that parliament is sovereign – and that is something critics can never take away from her.
Rise: Life Lessons in Speaking Out, Standing Tall & Leading the Way is published by Canongate