Ministers denounce ‘disgraceful’ treatment of Nigel Farage by Coutts bank
The former Ukip leader said after his account was closed there is a danger of the UK moving towards a ‘Chinese-style social credit system’.
Ministers have backed former Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage after private bank Coutts reportedly closed his account because his views do “not align with our values”.
Energy Security Secretary Grant Shapps said the prestigious financial institution’s decision is “absolutely disgraceful”, while Treasury minister Andrew Griffith said it raises “serious concern”.
Home Secretary Suella Braverman said: “The Coutts scandal exposes the sinister nature of much of the diversity, equity and inclusion industry.”
Eurosceptic Mr Farage has handed the Mail Online 40 pages of documents he obtained after making a subject access request to Coutts following its decision to shut his account.
According to the report, the bank’s dossier cited his retweet of a Ricky Gervais joke about trans women and his friendship with tennis player Novak Djokovic, who is opposed to Covid vaccinations, to flag concerns that Mr Farage is “xenophobic and racist”.
Speaking to the PA news agency, Mr Farage said his experience has left him fearing the UK is moving towards a “Chinese-style social credit system” where only those with “acceptable views” can participate in society.
It came as ministers refused to rule out introducing legislation to crack down on banks closing accounts due to a customer’s political views.
Mr Shapps told Sky News the Financial Conduct Authority, the sector’s watchdog, “does need to do more on this”.
Asked if the law should be changed, he said: “Maybe. We will do whatever is required, but in the first place the Financial Conduct Authority needs to get a grip of this.”
The Cabinet minister added: “I don’t have to agree with everything Nigel Farage says to recognise that free speech is a very important part of our domestic life.
“What has happened with some of these banks through this regime, which is known as the PEP regime – or politically exposed people – is really, actually, scandalous.
“People shouldn’t have their bank accounts closed because of their political or any other view.”
City minister Mr Griffith later tweeted: “It would be of serious concern if financial services were being denied to anyone exercising their right to lawful free speech.
“Businesses have the right to protect against reputational risks – e.g. criminal activity – but the privilege of a banking licence in a democracy should imply a duty not to ‘debank’ because you disagree with someone’s views.”
Mr Farage, who also led the Brexit-backing UK Independence Party (Ukip), said his treatment by Coutts raises issues about the culture at NatWest, which owns the 17th century bank.
He said its dossier is “prejudicial” and “full of bile”, adding: “If you are a NatWest customer and supported Brexit they probably think the same about you.”
The politician-turned-broadcaster said the stance by NatWest, under its new leadership, with Dame Alison Rose at the helm, puts the group “at variance with the majority of their customers”.
He told PA: “I think that the march of woke corporatism needs to be checked, and if it is not then we will finish up with a Chinese-style social credit system.
“Only those with acceptable views will be able to participate fully in society.
“I am effectively de-banked. How do I pay my gas bill? What have I done wrong? I haven’t broken the law.
“I happen to have an opinion on issues that are more popular outside the M25 than they are in inner London postcodes.”
The Home Secretary said “NatWest and other corporates” who “naively adopted this politically biased dogma” need to have a “major rethink”.
Mrs Braverman said Home Office policies will be reviewed to ensure the issue does not exist in the public sector as well.
The BBC previously suggested that anti-European Union campaigner Mr Farage fell below the financial threshold needed to have a Coutts account.
Coutts requires its customers to borrow or invest at least £1 million or save at least £3 million, according to an eligibility questionnaire on its website.
But, according to the files handed by Mr Farage to the Mail Online, officials said closing his accounts could not be justified on the basis of his wealth as his “economic contribution” was “sufficient to retain on a commercial basis”.
The minutes of a meeting of Coutts’ Wealth Reputational Risk Committee, dated November 17 2022, said: “The committee did not think continuing to bank NF was compatible with Coutts given his publicly-stated views that were at odds with our position as an inclusive organisation.”
Mr Farage going public about his account being closed has prompted a debate about the issue.
Rishi Sunak said at the time that banks should not be allowed to close customers’ accounts because of their views.
The Prime Minister said the right to free speech has to be respected “and that should not be an excuse to close anyone’s account”.
A Coutts spokeswoman said: “Our ability to respond is restricted by our obligations of client confidentiality.
“Decisions to close accounts are not taken lightly and take into account a number of factors including commercial viability, reputational considerations, and legal and regulatory requirements.
“As the client has previously confirmed, alternative banking arrangements have been offered within the wider group.”