Senior British MPs Urge Government to Hold PayPal to Account Over Free Speech Row

Senior British MPs Urge Government to Hold PayPal to Account Over Free Speech Row
A sign is posted in front of PayPal headquarters in San Jose, Calif., on Feb. 2, 2022. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Owen Evans
9/27/2022
Updated:
9/27/2022

Leading figures in the Conservative Party like Michael Gove, Iain Duncan Smith, and Sir Graham Brady are considering new laws after PayPal recently closed the accounts of several British campaign and journalist groups.

PayPal has faced a backlash since it last week shut down the account of the Free Speech Union (FSU), an organisation that defends people who have lost work or been cancelled for expressing opinions. Around the same time, the online payment system also shut down the account for UsForThem, a campaigning group that advocated for children to be prioritised during the COVID-19 pandemic.
PayPal has so far refused to clarify which rules the accounts of the FSU and UsForThem had broken.

Legislative Safeguards

Calling for potential “legislative safeguards,” the letter, signed by 42 MPs and peers, said that PayPal is using “its dominant position in the market to impose private economic sanctions on organisations and individuals of whose views it disapproves and thus to restrict their ability to engage in political debate in the public square.”

The letter sent on Saturday to Secretary of State for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy Jacob Rees-Mogg, expressed serious concerns over free speech and that PayPal Europe had “given no meaningful explanation for these closures and has declined requests to discuss its actions.”

The cancellation of the FSU’s account presented a challenge for the organisation as about a third of the FSU’s 9,500 members use PayPal to process their membership fees.

PayPal has since restored UsForThem’s access, though in a recent statement its founder Molly Kingsley said that she remains “deeply concerned by the events of the last week.”

File photo shows Britain's Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Michael Gove arriving for a Cabinet meeting, in London on Oct. 13, 2020. (Simon Dawson/Reuters)
File photo shows Britain's Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Michael Gove arriving for a Cabinet meeting, in London on Oct. 13, 2020. (Simon Dawson/Reuters)

‘A New Low’

Free Speech Union General Secretary Toby Young, whose news website The Daily Sceptic also had its PayPal account closed, told The Epoch Times that “this feels like an escalation in the ongoing war against free speech by Big Tech.”

“It’s one thing to shut down and demonetise accounts for expressing nonconformist views; that’s nothing new unfortunately. But in this case, PayPal has shut down the account of an organisation that defends people who express non-conformist views. That’s a new low,” he said.

The MPs stated that it’s “hard to avoid construing PayPal’s actions as an orchestrated, politically-motivated move to silence critical or dissenting views on these topics within the UK, as well as those who defend people’s right to express those views, and PayPal’s decision has been condemned by the UK’s leading free speech advocacy groups, Big Brother Watch, Article 19, Index on Censorship and the Open Rights Group.”

“There is no transparency as to by whom, or under whose influence, this decision has been taken,” they added.

The MPs said that they “believe the protection of free speech remains a central pillar of the UK’s open democracy” and urged the government to demand that PayPal explains its actions, and releases any remaining donations and subscription payments “which it has confiscated unfairly and without justification.”

The MPs also said to consider in parallel whether legislative safeguards are needed in the current Financial Services and Markets Bill or other relevant legislation.

Toby Young attends the Love At First Sight reception and auction at Bonhams in London on Jan. 23, 2006. (Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images)
Toby Young attends the Love At First Sight reception and auction at Bonhams in London on Jan. 23, 2006. (Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images)

‘Purely Political Reasons’

Last week, Young told The Epoch Times that the FSU will be campaigning for a new law in the UK to make it illegal for financial companies to withdraw services from customers “for purely political reasons.”

“Provided you haven’t said anything unlawful, your political views should be a matter of complete indifference to financial services companies,” he added.

The Epoch Times has contacted PayPal for comment.

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