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Get your act together: Key anti-Brexit campaigner tells MPs

Miller fears Britain is hurtling towards a crash-exit from the EU without an agreement
Miller fears Britain is hurtling towards a crash-exit from the EU without an agreement AFP

Paris (AFP)

Gina Miller may be one of Britain's most prominent anti-Brexit campaigners, but even her enemies agree with her on one point: the woeful inability of British politicians to find a way out of this mess.

The businesswoman, who shot to fame for successfully challenging Theresa May's government in court, sees little cause for optimism in one of the most tumultuous weeks since the 2016 referendum.

Britain, she fears, is hurtling towards a crash-exit from the EU without an agreement after parliament overwhelmingly rejected May's divorce deal on Tuesday.

"It is a historic moment, but I'm afraid I don't think anything has changed," Miller told AFP during a visit to Paris on Thursday to address the French Senate's Brexit committee.

"As much as you celebrate the fact that Mrs May's deal has managed to unite both leavers and remainers against it, there is still no option that appears to have enough of a majority to get through parliament," she said.

It was Miller, a Guyana-born former model and founder of an investment company, who won a court ruling in 2016 forcing May to consult parliament before firing the Brexit starting gun.

After becoming a despised figure among hardline Brexiteers, she says she still believes it is lawmakers who should play the key role in deciding what happens next.

"Depending on which paper or media you read, I'm either the most hated woman in Britain or I'm standing up for democracy and sovereignty -- which is a thing lots of Brexiteers wanted, ironically," she said with a smile.

"Parliamentarians are paid to resolve the issues of our constitution and our international relationships, our future and our policies, and that's what they should be doing."

In September, Miller launched the "End the Chaos" website which aims to offer a "trusted source of information" for people to decide for themselves on Brexit.

She backs the idea of a repeat referendum, but only as a last resort.

"If there is no other option and you're faced with no deal, if parliament can't make up their minds then it has to go back to the people to give them direction," she insisted.

- An 'undeliverable' fantasy -

Campaigners like Miller have argued that a second referendum could help end the deadlock as the supposed March 29 deadline for Brexit rapidly approaches.

"The Brexit which was sold was a fantasy and it's totally undeliverable," the 53-year-old said.

A former Labour voter, Miller says Britain is suffering from a lack of political leadership across the board -- not just from May, but also her leftwing rival Jeremy Corbyn.

"They're very good at double speak and actually sitting on the fence and just robotically repeating, both of them, the same meaningless phrases," Miller said.

Miller's starring role in the Brexit drama is just the latest twist in a colourful life.

Born into a privileged household in what was then British Guiana -- her father became the country's attorney general after independence -- Miller was sent to an English boarding school aged 11.

Two years later she found herself working part-time as a chambermaid when the family fell into financial difficulties.

Single parenting, two divorces and a career spanning everything from waitressing to starring in the title sequence for a James Bond film have made Miller tougher than most.

She needs to be: being catapulted to fame has come with a torrent of abuse from Brexiteers.

Even her children have received threats, while an aristocrat was briefly jailed in 2017 for putting a bounty on her head.

"It has changed every part of my life," Miller said.

"Sometimes I get very depressed that we live in a country where people think it's OK to say that because I'm a woman of colour I'm not bright enough or it's not my place, or comparing me to an animal."

But in spite of it all, she said, "I'm going to carry on fighting. I've been a campaigner for nearly 20 years -- I'm used to a backlash when you ask hard questions."

As for what happens next, Miller said the ball is in parliament's court.

She does not put much hope in an extension of the Brexit deadline, "because you would have to explain what you're extending it for".

"We would have to have an agreement in parliament of what we're hoping to extend and execute, and we're nowhere near that," she said.

However the story ends, Miller believes Britain will take a long time to heal from a political psychodrama that has bitterly divided friends and families.

"People are upset, confused, depressed, they just want it to be over," she said.

"They just want to get back to any semblance of a normal life where Brexit isn't dominating every conversation at every dining table."

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