The woman who brought the Prime Minister to heel

Gina Miller will go down in legal history as one of the foremost protectors of constitutional rigour, a tenacious agitator for Parliamentary sovereignty and a woman who brought a self-willed prime minister to heel. And she learnt her law in East London.

Mrs Miller brought the case that stopped a run-away government in its tracks. While Prime Minister Boris Johnson argued that proroguing parliament was a routine piece of business, the 54-year-old argued otherwise. She took her case all the way to the Supreme Court and won.

It is another momentous victory in a history of campaigning that has seen the controversial Guyana-born investment manager, activist and philanthropist, tilt at the Establishment.

Despite the contentious nature of her activism, she won’t let anyone define her restrict her and no-one will stop her from speaking out against what she sees as dishonesty, injustice and equality.

This is precisely the advice she gave to University of East London graduates in 2017.

The mother-of-three said at the time, “In the past 30 years I have learned that while we must dare to dream, dare to aim high, we must dare to also face our weakness. True character is not how you face your successes, it is how we face reality, obstacles and failures that defines who we really are.

What did Gina Miller tell students?

“It does not come easy, the society we value, it comes from hard work and it comes from being brave and being courageous.”

The words have special meaning for Gina Miller. She has faced trials in her private and public life. Her daughter Lucy-Ann has a number of severe mental health issues while her campaigning has made her the subject of death threats and racist abuse.

In 2017, she was named the most influential person in the UK – but she has been called traitor and worse and she said she feared leaving her home because of the threat of acid attacks.

But she told graduates at The O2, “Do not give in to bullying or belittling or bigotry.

“I chose not to let anyone tell me who I could be or how much I could achieve or where I could speak and what I could say. I encourage you to refuse to let others tell you who you can be.”

She was speaking after she received an honorary Doctorate of Law from the Royal Docks School of Business and Law, an act that provided a sense of completion to unfinished business.

Mrs Miller was sent to England at the age of 10 and studied law at the then Polytechnic of East London. However, she left without completing her finals because her parents called her back to Guyana after she was attacked in the street.

Where does her belief come from?

She began her activism with the True and Fair Campaign, which worked against mis-selling and hidden fund charges in the City’s closed-rank fund management industry. But she came fully to public attention after the Brexit referendum with her argument that the Government could not invoke Article 50 with the validation of a Parliamentary vote.

In November 2016, the Supreme Court rejected the Government’s appeal against a decision in her favour by a lower court. Although significant at the time, that victory appears like a dress rehearsal to the showdown between the executive and the legislature that joins the ranks of the great clashes of Parliamentary history.

In her memoir Rise: Life Lessons In Speaking Out, Standing Tall And Leading the Way (2018) she wrote, “As a child of the Commonwealth, I had been brought up to believe Great Britain was the promised land, a culture where the rule of law was observed and decency was embedded in the national fabric.”

Speaking outside the Supreme Court after the ruling on Tuesday, she was able to bookend that thought. She said, “Today is not a win for any individual or cause, it is a win for Parliamentary sovereignty, the separation of powers and the independence of our British courts. Crucially today’s ruling confirms that we are a nation governed by the rule of law.”

It was, in short, a victory for the law she learnt in East London three decades before.

Read more: Why East London is the new home of ballet

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