Britain says payments companies' clients may need protecting from 'cancel culture'

By Huw Jones

LONDON (Reuters) - Britain's finance ministry on Friday spoke against "cancel culture," citing the case of payment companies who terminated accounts belonging to conservative media outlets, and said a new review will assess whether rules protect consumers' free speech.

The review covers existing regulations that apply to over 1,000 firms authorised as payment and e-money services in the UK. The ministry said the process sought to help an innovative and internationally competitive payments sector to flourish as technology advances.

Within the broader review, the government will assess whether clearer guidelines are needed on when companies can withdraw services from customers, the ministry said.

"As a minimum, it is the government's view that, without deviation, a notice-period and fair and open communication with a customer must apply in situations which relate to termination on grounds other than suspected or actual criminal offences or when otherwise allowed by law," the ministry said in its review paper.

It noted recent "high profile cases" involving PayPal Europe, which terminated and later reinstated a number of user accounts, without publicly disclosing its reasons.

PayPal cancelled the online payment accounts of the Daily Sceptic, which has challenged scientific consensus on global warming and COVID-19 vaccines, and the Free Speech Union, which has criticised 'cancel culture', along with the account of its founder Toby Young.

The ministry said the terminations raised concerns in the media and parliament that the accounts were withdrawn due to the views of these two organisations.

"The government believes that free speech within the law, and the legitimate expression of differing views, is an important British liberty," the ministry said.

"The government does not support 'cancel culture' - the censorship of views due to an intolerance of dissenting opinion."

PayPal did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment.

The rules, which Britain adopted when part of the European Union, already require payment companies give customers notice when they terminate an account.

The government will assess if the termination rules require further clarification or wider change to protect freedom of expression, the ministry said.

(Reporting by Huw Jones; Editing by Frank Jack Daniel)