I’ve spent much of my career having to speak up and voice my opinion in front of groups of people, in rooms of varying sizes – be that in an office, at a charity event, in court, or in Westminster. This last weekend, however, was perhaps the first time I’ve had to do this for something personal, because I was launching the publication of my book, Rise: Life Lessons in Speaking Out, Standing Tall and Leading the Way, at the Edinburgh International Book Festival.
On Saturday evening, I was in pretty familiar territory – speaking, alongside other authors who were in attendance, at Amnesty International’s “Imprisoned Writers” series. The aim was to highlight the plight of some of the Turkish people – including many journalists – detained under President Erdogan’s regime, by reading out their words to the gathered audience. It was an enormously humbling moment, and a privilege to be able to give voice to those who have been so cruelly deprived of theirs. Such oppression is something we must all oppose loudly, whenever and wherever we see it happening in the world.
Now it gets personal
It was with a little more trepidation that I stepped out on Sunday evening in front of the audience in one of the main tents at the festival, knowing I would be asked questions of a more personal nature, since I am emotionally naked in many chapters in my book. In Rise I have chosen to use the lens of my life to speak out about the personal experiences that led to me stand up and fight for what is fair and right – including becoming the lead claimant in the 2016 constitutional legal case against the UK government over triggering Article 50.
Some of my family, including my two youngest children, were in the audience for support, which helped calm my nerves, but I was still anxious as to the reception I would get from the 750 people in the audience that evening. The topic of Brexit is nothing if not divisive, and I’ve had my fair share of abuse for daring – simply – to ask that the government followed due process, and for continuing to ask about the details of their Brexit plans.
My fears on this occasion could not have been more unfounded. The excellent broadcaster and journalist Ruth Wishart was chair for the event, and asked intelligent, thought-provoking questions, and the audience had come with plenty of their own to raise in the open Q&A session at the end of the discussion.
What we tell our children
The moment that stood out most for me in the evening was when a 15-year-old girl was brave enough – in a room full of people mostly more than twice her age – to put her hand up to ask a question. What she asked when given the microphone was a very wise question, but one that was deeply saddening to hear:
“What will happen if Brexit happens? I’m only 15. Would we be able to join the EU again later on?”
I wish I could have given more reassuring words in reply. This girl, with her life ahead of her, is in large part who I wrote my book for: I want to try to encourage and inspire her and others like her to have confidence in their own voices, to speak up when they feel something is wrong and to feel empowered to be an active part of our country’s future.
But the truth is, it will be very hard for us ever to rejoin the EU if we leave it next year. We might well have to go all in, and agree to terms we are currently in a position to reject – eg having to adopt the euro currency, and becoming part of the Schengen Area.
The irony of our government seeking a “good” deal as we exit the EU is that we already have a very good, indeed special deal; one we won’t be able to replicate if Brexit goes through.
Asking the right questions
However, what does give me heart is people like that 15-year-old girl; people who are asking the right questions; people who are looking for solutions to the chaos we have got ourselves into and who are seeking ways of bringing the country together.
The febrile atmosphere that Brexit has generated cannot be allowed to fester, otherwise I fear we will see our country go down a dark path of increasing polarity, hatred and fear.
The importance of being audacious
Many of the things I discuss in Rise are personal but they speak to a universal need for individuals to come together – with considerable humanity in their hearts – in the face of adversity. And that was what I witnessed in the room that evening. In place of the fear and division we currently see screamed out from our national newspapers’ headlines every day, I saw strength, community and determination, and it gave me hope.
Whatever lies ahead for us, I truly believe we can reconnect as a nation, and build a future based on unity not tribalism, of inclusivity not ignorance-induced narrow-mindedness. We just have to be brave enough, and audacious enough, to stand up for what is best for our nation as a whole. If we can do that, then we can – and will – rise together.
“Rise: Life Lessons in Speaking Out, Standing Tall and Leading the Way” by Gina Miller is out now. More information on Imprisoned Writers is available at amnesty.org.uk
This article appears in the 29 Aug 2018 issue of the New Statesman, How politics turned toxic