I was always quietly confident I’d win my Supreme Court case against Boris Johnson – not because I had the eminent Lord Pannick representing me, but because, since the Case of Proclamations 1610, the courts have had a clear supervisory role over the executive. When Lady Hale, the president of the Supreme Court, finally announced that all 11 judges had unanimously ruled that the Prime Minister had acted unlawfully in proroguing parliament for an unprecedented five weeks, I couldn’t help but shed a tear. The legal team around me hugged each other, and I could see on the face of David Pannick that this had been a whole lot more than just another case to him. The man that all the papers had routinely called my “expensive barrister” had, by the way, acted for me pro bono.
So many sections of our press and so many members of parliament have not been up to the task of protecting our constitution, our freedoms and our way of life that it was a magnificent thing to see the judiciary standing strong and stable, a bulwark to our democracy, and acting – in the words of Brenda Hale – “without fear or favour”.
Nothing to do with Brexit
I’d not been sleeping well since the saga began on 12 July, when the legal correspondence with No 10 had got under way. In all honesty, it would have been wonderful, after hearing the judgment, to head home, kick off my shoes and get some rest, but I knew that it would be a few nights before my bed and I would be reunited.
Another battle lay ahead of me: to interpret what had just happened and not let the government downplay or reposition the truth. On the steps of the Supreme Court, and in an endless succession of TV and radio studios, I made the same point. This case had nothing to do with Brexit – it was about the highest British court ruling that Johnson cannot set a precedent for prime ministers to close parliament for extended periods to force through their own agenda, regardless of parliament.
A grounding moment
In the middle of judgment day, I managed to find just under an hour to have lunch with colleagues. We went to a restaurant near my office, and, not having booked, we joined the queue.
When it was our turn to be seated, the lady on the desk smiled warmly and said: “Ah, Mrs Miller, we haven’t seen you for quite a while. What have you been doing?”
It was the funniest thing I had heard all day. Life goes on, no matter what.
Manners on the battlefield
The next morning the media carousel started turning again and I found myself crossing paths with Nigel Farage and his bodyguard. While we did not talk, we allowed each other space and showed each other respect on every occasion. There were many big personalities doing the media rounds that day, all with different agendas, but as I bumped into one after another, what was striking was that we all kept to the basic rules of decorum and social engagement.
I hope I won’t embarrass Richard Tice, the Brexit Party chairman, when I say he came up and congratulated me. I’ve known Tice through my business life in the City and one thing I will say is that he is a gentleman – whatever our political differences.
The worst of the bad behaviour
It was hard not to feel a deep sense of despair when I turned on the television to see not what I would call an orderly resumption of business in the House of Commons at a grave and important time in our country’s history, but a pantomime.
There was Geoffrey Cox, the Attorney General, holding forth at the dispatch box, without the slightest degree of contrition about the advice he’d given to the Prime Minister to prorogue, which 11 Supreme Court judges had deemed unlawful. In a cheap imitation of Rumpole of the Bailey, he even made a joke about wife-beating. An even worse performance was to come.
Johnson’s behaviour that evening was beyond contemptuous to many in the House, including a post-truth positing of my court case and a dangerous denigration of the Supreme Court judges. I wondered if Johnson has simply adopted Donald Trump’s playbook and, when confronted by uncomfortable truths, says something calculated to outrage that then dominates the media for the next 24 hours. The conversation moved on from the Supreme Court judgment – and how very convenient for the Prime Minister.
Parliament or fish market
The scenes in the Commons make me think of my father’s farewell speech in 2009 when he retired as attorney general of Guyana (formerly British Guiana), where the law is based on the British system. He hoped that the parliament there would adopt a more dignified approach to debate. “Heckling is an art,” he said. “It is not a means to transform the National Assembly into a fish market… People must be conscious of what this National Assembly is. It is the highest forum of the land. It’s where the people’s business is to be debated. It must be debated in a civilised and decent atmosphere.”
Kind words from Reckless
That we live in a post-truth age was brought home to me when I took part in the 40th anniversary edition of BBC Question Time in Cardiff. James Cleverly, the Conservative Party chairman, blithely said that the High Court had thrown out my case. In fact, the three senior judges granted me a right of appeal to the Supreme Court, agreeing it had merit. He stumbled and changed the subject. Off camera, I was struck by a kindly act. Mark Reckless, the Brexit Party politician and former Ukip MP, told me he’d tweeted that I was going to be on the show with him and wished for a civilised debate. He was then taken aback by the volume of abuse that he received. He said it was totally unacceptable. I was heartened. Disagreement and decency can go hand in hand.
This article appears in the 02 Oct 2019 issue of the New Statesman, The Brexit revolutionaries