Banks Must Not Close Accounts for Political Reasons, Says Government After Nigel Farage Row

Banks Must Not Close Accounts for Political Reasons, Says Government After Nigel Farage Row
Nigel Farage speaks at the CPAC Australia conference in Sydney, Australia, on Aug. 10, 2019. (The Epoch Times)
Owen Evans
7/4/2023
Updated:
7/4/2023

UK banks must not close individuals’ accounts for political reasons, Rishi Sunak has warned in a row sparked by Nigel Farage.

Last week, the British political leader Nigel Farage claimed that the bank he has been with for over 40 years has closed his bank account with “no explanation.

The GB News presenter and former UKIP and Brexit Party leader said that his bank, now known to be the prestigious private bank, Coutts, closed all his accounts, claiming “political persecution.”

“I have been given no explanation or recourse as to why this is happening to me,” he said.

“This is serious political persecution at the very highest level of our system. If they can do it to me, they can do it to you too,” he added.

He also said that seven banks had since refused to give him a personal and a business account.

Serious concern

Subsequently, the government said that it is looking into whether banks are closing people’s accounts over their political views.

Farage mulled that he may have been deemed a politically exposed person (PEP), a term used for someone who, through their prominent position or influence, is more susceptible to being involved in bribery or corruption.

The Treasury said it was already looking into whether banks and regulators were being too rigorous in how they handle PEPs, and making sure that UK-based politicians were being treated as less risky individuals than those in other countries.

A Treasury spokesman said: “It would be a serious concern if financial services were being denied to those exercising the right to lawful free speech.

“We are already looking into this issue and have passed a law that requires the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) to review how banks treat politically exposed persons—so we can strike the right balance between the customer’s right to free speech and the bank’s right to manage commercial risk.”

It has asked the FCA to conduct a review into whether financial institutions are meeting its guidance over the treatment of PEPs, and whether that guidance needs to be updated.

The official spokesman for the Prime Minister said he was “concerned” by some of the reports, adding, “Free speech within the law and the legitimate expression of differing views is an important part of British liberty.”

He stressed that the Treasury is running a call for evidence to assess whether the current system is fair.

Free speech activists and MPs also waded into the row.

“The government must make plain what people’s rights are in dealing with banks and institute a proper, and automatic, right of appeal in cases where accounts are cancelled,” said Conservative MP David Davis in Parliament yesterday.
“Especially given it is near enough impossible to exist without one in the modern world,” he added.

This week, other people involved in the Brexit Party have revealed that their accounts have been frozen.

Brexit Party MEP Christina Jordan claimed she had been kicked out of her bank after 30 years.

Furthermore, the insurgent parties Reclaim and Reform have previously warned that banks’ environmental, social, and governance policies are being used to penalise certain views such as critiquing net zero policies.

Toby Young’s Free Speech Union said it had been lobbying the Treasury for the past nine months to change the payment regulations to stop banks, and companies like PayPal, “debanking” people because they disapprove of their political views.
Young’s Free Speech Union and the Daily Sceptic blog, were frozen by PayPal without a clear explanation, though later restored.
“It looks like our efforts are bearing fruit,” wrote the Free Speech Union on Twitter.
The BBC reported that Farage’s account was withdrawn because his funds had dropped below the required threshold.

Dispute

On Tuesday, the BBC reported, using unnamed sources, that Farage allegedly fell below the financial threshold needed to hold an account with Coutts.

The Epoch Times has not been able to verify these claims.

Coutts requires its customers to borrow or invest at least £1 million or save at least £3 million with the private bank, according to an eligibility questionnaire on its website.

Farage said in a video posted on Twitter, “They are telling the press I don’t meet their wealth threshold.”

He said he was then offered a standard account, not a business with NatWest, which owns Coutts, but only after speaking publicly about the issue last Thursday.

“Well, they never mentioned that before in the previous ten years. The worst of the story is, they denied to me on the phone on Friday I was a PEP.

“That is the reason Coutts will not have me, and Coutts are, frankly, being very, very dishonest indeed.”

The Epoch Times contacted Coutts for comment.

PA Media contributed to this report.
Owen Evans is a UK-based journalist covering a wide range of national stories, with a particular interest in civil liberties and free speech.
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