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Brexit activist Gina Miller: I never expected this much racist abuse

Since judges ruled that parliament had to vote on Brexit in her legal challenge, Miller has received torrents of abuse online.

Gina Miller, the investment fund manager and activist who led the Brexit legal challenge, has battled with social media abuse since judges ruled that parliament should vote on the Brexit process.

Speaking at Westminster yesterday, in a conversation with Tulip Siddiq MP to mark International Women’s Day, she said that after the torrent of abuse she has received online, she doesn’t “know Britain any more.” A myth she insisted should be busted is the idea that this hate speech is “unpremeditated”. “I’ve had letters with the most expensive stationery, beautiful handwriting, with the most poisonous words,” she said.

A man was charged this week with malicious communications with racially aggravated factors for hate messages he sent to Miller on social media. The man, Rhodri Colwyn Philipps, 50, is the 4th Viscount St Davids. 

After he was charged, Miller received more abuse, she told Tulip Siddiq. “I got messages that said, ‘He’s a hero, you deserve to be a slave, he is a real Brit, you aren’t.'” Miller has said after choosing to lead the legal challenge, she expected abuse directed at the fact she is a woman. “I never expected the racism. We’re in 2017 in Britain! I don’t understand what’s happened. Lines have been crossed, permission has been given.” She receives violent sexual and racial abuse on a daily basis. “Emails, phone calls – even LinkedIn, so you know who they are!”

Philipps will appear in court on 4 April and the ruling could set a precedent for British law, Miller said: “The CPS have not charged someone who’s used social media before to incite sexual and racial violence.”

Although admitting she was “shocked” by the “hatred”, she invited the audience to “speak up” when faced with abuse and expressed concern over the “rising populism” in the world, which she says is historically linked to the rise of “autocratic leaders”. Disappointed by the result of the parliamentary vote on the Brexit deal triggered by the ruling in her legal challenge, she said she would not be bringing a new court case but would ask the court to uphold her case’s judgement if Theresa May “doesn’t deliver” on the Brexit deal, because the court ruled that only parliament has the right to take away or diminish citizens’ rights.

“Because Article 50 shoots the bullet, it isn’t until it hits that we are going to know which rights are lost or diminished. And then there will need to be an act, a debate in parliament. It is a constitutional case about rights,” she concluded.

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The rise of the green mayor – Sadiq Khan and the politics of clean energy

At an event at Tate Modern, Sadiq Khan pledged to clean up London's act.

On Thursday night, deep in the bowls of Tate Modern’s turbine hall, London Mayor Sadiq Khan renewed his promise to make the capital a world leader in clean energy and air. Yet his focus was as much on people as power plants – in particular, the need for local authorities to lead where central governments will not.

Khan was there to introduce the screening of a new documentary, From the Ashes, about the demise of the American coal industry. As he noted, Britain continues to battle against the legacy of fossil fuels: “In London today we burn very little coal but we are facing new air pollution challenges brought about for different reasons." 

At a time when the world's leaders are struggling to keep international agreements on climate change afloat, what can mayors do? Khan has pledged to buy only hybrid and zero-emissions buses from next year, and is working towards London becoming a zero carbon city.

Khan has, of course, also gained heroic status for being a bête noire of climate-change-denier-in-chief Donald Trump. On the US president's withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, Khan quipped: “If only he had withdrawn from Twitter.” He had more favourable things to say about the former mayor of New York and climate change activist Michael Bloomberg, who Khan said hailed from “the second greatest city in the world.”

Yet behind his humour was a serious point. Local authorities are having to pick up where both countries' central governments are leaving a void – in improving our air and supporting renewable technology and jobs. Most concerning of all, perhaps, is the way that interest groups representing business are slashing away at the regulations which protect public health, and claiming it as a virtue.

In the UK, documents leaked to Greenpeace’s energy desk show that a government-backed initiative considered proposals for reducing EU rules on fire-safety on the very day of the Grenfell Tower fire. The director of this Red Tape Initiative, Nick Tyrone, told the Guardian that these proposals were rejected. Yet government attempts to water down other EU regulations, such as the energy efficiency directive, still stand.

In America, this blame-game is even more highly charged. Republicans have sworn to replace what they describe as Obama’s “war on coal” with a war on regulation. “I am taking historic steps to lift the restrictions on American energy, to reverse government intrusion, and to cancel job-killing regulations,” Trump announced in March. While he has vowed “to promote clean air and clear water,” he has almost simultaneously signed an order to unravel the Clean Water Rule.

This rhetoric is hurting the very people it claims to protect: miners. From the Ashes shows the many ways that the industry harms wider public health, from water contamination, to air pollution. It also makes a strong case that the American coal industry is in terminal decline, regardless of possibile interventions from government or carbon capture.

Charities like Bloomberg can only do so much to pick up the pieces. The foundation, which helped fund the film, now not only helps support job training programs in coal communities after the Trump administration pulled their funding, but in recent weeks it also promised $15m to UN efforts to tackle climate change – again to help cover Trump's withdrawal from Paris Agreement. “I'm a bit worried about how many cards we're going to have to keep adding to the end of the film”, joked Antha Williams, a Bloomberg representative at the screening, with gallows humour.

Hope also lies with local governments and mayors. The publication of the mayor’s own environment strategy is coming “soon”. Speaking in panel discussion after the film, his deputy mayor for environment and energy, Shirley Rodrigues, described the move to a cleaner future as "an inevitable transition".

Confronting the troubled legacies of our fossil fuel past will not be easy. "We have our own experiences here of our coal mining communities being devastated by the closure of their mines," said Khan. But clean air begins with clean politics; maintaining old ways at the price of health is not one any government must pay. 

'From The Ashes' will premiere on National Geograhpic in the United Kingdom at 9pm on Tuesday, June 27th.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

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