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Miriam Gonzalez Durantez on husband Nick Clegg's Facebook job, Brexit-busting and why Beyonce is a role model

'Our son is very well. Whether it is a big illness or losing someone, your only option is to cope... when it is too hard day by day you do it hour by hour or minute by minute'

Miriam Gonzalez Durantez
Miriam Gonzalez Durantez
Miriam Gonzalez with her husband, Nick Clegg, and their youngest son, Miguel, when he was born

By Susannah Butter

Miriam Gonzalez Durantez does have a Facebook account, but she says she is much more of an Instagram person: "Being able to say openly what you think there has been a blessing."

Luckily, Instagram is owned by Facebook, so it still falls under her husband Nick Clegg's new remit. The former deputy prime minister has taken a job at Facebook as head of global policy and communications, and this month he, Gonzalez Durantez and their three sons are leaving Brexit-locked Britain and moving to Palo Alto.

Wearing a sunny yellow jumper, Gonzalez Durantez is taking a break from packing, hiding in the extension of their Putney home. The table is obscured by half-empty bottles of spirits that need drinking before they go. She's in clear-out mode, offering me their old TV because it won't work in California.

Does Brexit make this a good time for the Spanish citizen - an international lawyer, aged 50 - and her Europhile husband to be heading across the Atlantic? "It is never a good time to leave London," she says with a charming smile. "It is a wonderful place. Please don't destroy London."

She came to the UK reluctantly when her husband became MP for Sheffield Hallam in 2005. It's grown on her. She loves its diversity - and the Wallace Collection. But California is "an adventure".

"California is the more European of all the states. They are constantly looking to the future. The UK spent the past two years looking at the past, and you can see that in politics constantly, whether it's the Sixties or Seventies. That forward-looking is contagious. In life you need to move on sometimes."

Gonzalez Durantez can't vote here and acknowledges that means "Brexit is not my decision", but she does think we have made a catastrophic mistake. "What has been heartbreaking is that the Government has been truly incompetent. We are in this situation because the Prime Minister decided to waste two years and set out a series of red lines decided on her own without consulting Parliament."

Taking a sip of black coffee from a Gruffalo mug, she continues: "She didn't have to put the country in this situation and now it is disheartening because one has the feeling that there is an intention to blackmail the country by not letting Parliament decide and to try to bring them to the edge of the cliff with that line, which at the end of the day is a procedural deadline.

"The first thing she should be doing, today rather than tomorrow, is phoning the Europeans and saying, 'We may need more time'. Why she doesn't do that is beyond me.

"The Cabinet and the Prime Minister have not been understanding it until very recently, but it is their job to understand (Brexit).

"Blackmailing the country by bringing it to the edge is unethical, really. This can be recovered, but it needs to be handled differently. Whenever she says this is the only deal on the table, it is because she is the only one doing the negotiating."

Would she like a second referendum? "It is possibly one of the only ways out of this mess. I do understand those who say perhaps the only options are hard Brexit, which would require her to lead the country with much more determination than she has done, or staying in. It seems to me insane that this needs to happen by X day in March. It's yet another example of a person putting herself above the country, but you have had a few of those."

It's particularly concerning for the younger generation. Gonzalez Durantez has three sons: Antonio, Alberto and Miguel, aged 15, 13 and eight. Their age group "feels strongly" about Brexit. "It's one of the toughest things to see, the amount of young people who do not want this. It is difficult to run a country against the interests of its young people."

The family is close. In autumn 2016 Antonio was diagnosed with lymphoma, a cancer of the white blood cells. Nine months later Clegg lost Sheffield Hallam, the seat he'd represented for 13 years.

Antonio is in full remission now. "He is very well. Whether it is a big illness or losing someone, your only option is to cope. You have other people around, you have to be there for them, and that's how you do it. When it is too hard day by day, you do it hour by hour or minute by minute. There are many more families who go through much worse than we do, and we don't really have an option - you just have to deal with it."

This isn't goodbye to the UK, she assures me: "I'm not going to disappear." They are keeping their Putney house and Gonzalez Durantez will be travelling back and forth for her new job at boutique international law firm Cohen Gresser, "once everybody is installed and we've made sure the schools are good". It "annoys Nick" that she's a good sleeper and can spend whole transatlantic plane journeys asleep.

Alongside that, she's expanding her organisation Inspiring Girls. It seeks to raise the aspirations of young women around the world by connecting them to female role models. She launched it two years ago after having the idea on holiday and emailing 10 women she admired asking them to be involved. Now it operates in 10 countries.

"We've recorded interviews with women from all walks of life, so that any girl with access to the internet, no matter where she is, can have access to this enormous amount of role models. She can get in touch with them too.

"One of my obsessions is keeping talking about gender equality, not just ticking the box and saying we've sorted it. Let's move to the next problem. It is not just for women and girls. I have a lot to do with men speaking up."

She's also eloquent on the need to boost self-confidence and support women with better childcare and attitudes.

Is the PM a role model? "She doesn't come up (with the people I speak to), but it might just be the types of girls we meet. In the UK they tend to say Beyonce is the role model. I think that's great because she is hard-working. The issue is when you ask, 'Do you sing?' and they say no.

"The second role model they tend to say is their mother or grandmother - and you feel like hugging them. Role models don't need to be top women in industry or politics, but certainly for girls to see women in positions of power is important."

Gonzalez Durantez "has always been close to politics". She was brought up during Spain's transition to democracy and her father was mayor of Olmedo and then senator for Valladolid. "One of my earliest memories is giving out pamphlets outside political rallies, so I have lived with politicians and worked for them. I worked with Chris Patten on European trade. But it was always, 'These people do it and I am just here in the background'. That changed in 2016.

"It was not only Brexit, it was Spain, the US. We either step in, or it might be that the things I consider essential, fundamental freedoms which I took for granted, they might not be there for my children. I've spent a lot of time over the past few years telling people and also myself that we all need to chip in. Not all of that is frontline politics. It's about speaking up." Would she like to be Prime Minister of Spain? "Haha, if only."

Who are her role models? "I have women who, when I am in a conundrum, I think, 'How would they do it?' - for example Catherine Day (former secretary-general of the EU Commission)." The argument that certain values are innately female doesn't sit easily.

"It has become fashionable to say that we naturally have certain soft skills and those are not the ones needed in the workplace. I do not identify with that. All this about us being better negotiators. I work as a negotiator, but I prefer people to do what I say. Everything depends on you as a person. The whole point of diversity discussions is not putting people in boxes. It drives people away."

Does she miss anything about life in Westminster? "Oh yes, the excitement and being able to see British politics from the front row at an interesting and difficult time. The nice bit about politics is when you have a lot of money to give everybody. (But it was) a difficult situation economically and you have to bring it to a position of growth and strength. It was like a masterclass every day, but in life you go in chapters, things move on. If you see my life, any prediction never happens, so I have learned to live by the present."

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