Skip to main content

“I’ve sort of become the poster girl for hatred when it comes to Brexit,” Ms. Miller said.Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

When Gina Miller launched a legal challenge to how the British government was going to pull the country out of the European Union, she thought the case would spark a debate about Brexit. Instead she's received so many death threats, sexist insults and racist taunts that she's had to have police protection.

"One particular group of people put up a Facebook campaign and they published my e-mail address to my work, my phone numbers to my office and invited people to gang rape me," Ms. Miller recalled from her office in London where she runs an investment firm. "Life has changed. It's really not what I expected."

On Tuesday Britain's Supreme Court will issue a long-awaited ruling on Ms. Miller's case, which she has already won at a lower court. Legal experts expect her to win again, throwing Prime Minister Theresa May's Brexit plans into disarray. The case is so significant that for the first time in the court's history all 11 judges will issue the decision, which could also decide whether Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland have a greater role in Brexit.

Read more: Theresa May's 12-point plan for Brexit

Read more: Globe editorial: Team Britain's Brexit game plan? Score an own goal

Read more: May touts clean Brexit break but it could be anything but

Once again Ms. Miller will be thrust into the limelight, facing a media storm and ridicule from many ardent Brexit backers who view her as a traitor. The abuse has left her family living in fear and shaken her faith in Britain's openness, especially as an immigrant who arrived in Britain from Guyana in the 1970s.

"What I have come to realize is that maybe there is something beneath the surface, that somehow Brexit has given permission for people to go beyond what was acceptable. And it's now become acceptable to behave in a very aggressive, disruptive, vile way toward other people. And I never knew that was there," she said. "I've sort of become the poster girl for hatred when it comes to Brexit."

Ms. Miller, 51, certainly never expected to become a target of hatred when she filed her lawsuit last summer. She'd campaigned for the Remain side in the referendum campaign and when the Leave side won on June 23, Ms. Miller wanted to understand how Britain would actually leave the EU. The exit mechanism, known as Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, was vague and the British government insisted that the Prime Minister could trigger it on her own by simply sending a letter to the EU headquarters in Brussels invoking Article 50. Ms. Miller wasn't convinced.

She's studied law and couldn't see how Britain's constitution, which isn't a single document but a collection of laws, would allow the Prime Minister to do something so substantial without the approval of Parliament. Several legal experts agreed but when Ms. Miller tried to interest some of London's top law firms in taking on the Prime Minister in court, none would agree.

Finally, one small firm, Mishcon de Reya, agreed to take the case and together with a group of lawyers from two other firms, they filed a lawsuit on behalf of Ms. Miller that challenged Ms. May's right to act alone. In November, three lower court judges agreed and ruled that the Prime Minister needed approval from Parliament. That was a blow to Ms. May, because she wanted to start the Brexit process before the end of March but now she had to deal with Parliament, which could delay or even thwart her plans given that a majority of MPs had opposed Brexit during the referendum campaign.

The ruling unleashed a wave of hostility toward Ms. Miller. She was scorned in the press and faced so much abuse in public that she stopped taking the underground. Many accused her of trying to overturn the referendum result while others mocked her saying someone who wasn't born in Britain had no right to speak up about Brexit. Then it got worse.

Death treats began appearing in Ms. Miller's office e-mail, then by phone and in letters to her home. Police officers were sent to guard her house and delist her home phone number and address from every possible directory. She began fearing for the safety of her three children and she stopped looking at social media. She only learned about the abuse spewing on Twitter when another Gina Miller, a sportscaster in Texas, wrote an article about all the hatred being directed to her by mistake.

SCM Direct, the investment firm Ms. Miller runs with her husband, Alan Miller, suffered too. Business deals suddenly fell through and the company was hit with two cyberattacks.

And yet, Ms. Miller has refused to back down. She's appeared on television programs, participated in debates and sat through part of the Supreme Court hearings, with security guards in tow. She's also kept up her charity work with the True and Fair Foundation which she founded to push for more transparency in the investment world and charitable organizations.

"My response has always been, if you let people carry on unchallenged, if you don't challenge their messaging, then they just get away with it and I just don't think that's a good place to be," she said. "There is a real fear that has descended on the U.K. where people from all walks of life are really frightened to speak up. You can't have a reasoned debate. It's really difficult to raise questions and to have a really rounded conversation. It's straight away you are seen as going against the will of the people, being a traitor, trying to undo Brexit."

There have been messages of support too, and some people sharing their pain. "I've received hundreds of really heartbreaking stories from people who settled here, who love Britain, and came here 20, 30, 40 years ago who, for the first time, if they speak their language in the streets or at the bus stop, are being attacked or spat at or kicked," she said.

Ms. Miller finds inspiration in her father, a lawyer in Guyana who became Attorney-General after leading the opposition during a period of dictatorship in the country. He sent his daughter to Britain for school and she remained, pursuing a law degree, modelling and then moving into finance. "I'm afraid I grew up with politics and a very strong sense of social justice throughout my family," she said.

As for Brexit, Ms. Miller believes Britain should get the best deal possible from the EU and stay in the single market, which guarantees the free movement of goods, services and people among EU states. That's at odds with Ms. May who has announced that Britain will break entirely with the EU, withdraw from the single market and negotiate a free-trade agreement instead.

Ms. Miller isn't sold on Ms. May's approach and believes the government hasn't come clean on just how hard Brexit will be. And if the Supreme Court backs her case, as expected, and the government doesn't deliver on what the ruling requires, Ms. Miller will sue again. "I would take them back to court for contempt of court," she said.

When the ruling comes out on Tuesday, Ms. Miller knows she'll be back in the spotlight. She's wondered if it's worth it and worries about the impact on her family. "My husband and I talked [over Christmas] about whether it was a price worth paying," she said. "But I just said to my husband, until we have a proper debate and other people stepping up, my conscience won't let me step back because what about everybody else? What about our children? What about the society they are going to grow up in? We can't have one that's dominated by hatred."

Report an error

Editorial code of conduct