The head of NatWest has apologised to Nigel Farage after making "deeply inappropriate comments" about him when they justified closing his bank account, which he claimed was motivated by his political beliefs.
Dame Alison Rose, chief executive of NatWest Group which includes the investment firm Coutts that Farage hand an account with issued the apology and said she is "commissioning a full review of the Coutts processes" on bank account closures.
Farage protested about the closure of his account, which he said was due to his political stances but other reports suggested was because the amount of funds in the account had dipped below the required amount.
The former Brexit Party leader produced a 40-page dossier, using a subject access request, to gain information about the decision to close his account, which was published in the Daily Telegraph.
“Many” of his relatives and associates have been designated politically exposed persons by a company that provides credit evaluations to banks, he added.
Farage said: “Refusal to open (bank accounts) and closures have happened to several members of my family. Which is perhaps, above all, what has made me angry, really angry and motivated me to do this.
“It’s tough enough for individuals to go into public life and take the stigma that goes with it…
“But if it’s now going to have a huge effect on your family and close friends, why would anybody of any calibre want to go into public life in our country?"
Watch: Farage claims bank lied to him (Twitter, 8 mins)
Here, Yahoo News UK rounds up what Farage and others have said about the account closure…
‘Serious political persecution’
Farage initially revealed his account had been closed in a scathing tweet on 29 June, claiming the decision was an attempt by the “establishment” to “force me out of the UK”.
He tweeted: “I have been given no explanation or recourse as to why this is happening to me. 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.”
Farage, a prominent Leave campaigner, suggested the closure could be due to “prejudice” because the “corporate world” has probably not forgiven him for Brexit.
The establishment are trying to force me out of the UK (Twitter, 6 min)
Farage account claimed to be ‘below financial threshold’
A report in the BBC on 4 July suggested that Farage fell below the financial threshold needed to hold an account with Coutts, and this was the reason behind the closure. The Financial Times also reported similar.
Coutts requires its customers to borrow or invest at least £1m or save at least £3m with the private bank, according to an eligibility questionnaire on its website.
But Farage said “at no point in the last 10 years” did the bank give him a minimum threshold, and that he now has “more money sitting on a current account” than before.
Furthermore, he said he was then offered a standard account with NatWest, which owns Coutts, but only after speaking publicly about the issue.
Nigel Farage bank account shut for falling below wealth limit (BBC News, 3 min)
Sunak criticises banks
Nearly a week after the row erupted, prime minister Rishi Sunak waded into the issue, saying that banks should not be allowed to close accounts because of people’s views.
Sunak said the right to free speech had to be respected “and that should not be an excuse to close anyone’s account”.
The Treasury also backed the PM’s stance and said it was already looking into whether banks and regulators were being too rigorous in how they handle politically exposed persons (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.“
What is a PEP?
A politically exposed person, of PEP, refers to someone who holds high public office in the UK or overseas (or their family members) meaning financial institutions can treat their accounts with extra due diligence.
According to guidance by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), PEPs could pose more of a risk of abusing their public office position for personal gain, such as by making or accepting bribes.
What are PEPs and are banks allowed to close their accounts? (Sky News, 3 min)
Farage produces Coutts documents
This week, Farage revealed documents he claimed showed Coutts had closed his account because his views “do not align with our values”.
Writing in The Telegraph, he said: “I believe Coutts targeted me on personal and political grounds, for its report reads rather like a pre-trial brief drawn up by the prosecution in a case against a career criminal.”
The report mentioned his comments about Brexit, his friendship with tennis star Novak Djokovic and a perception that he was regarded as “racist and xenophobic”, he said.
“The most extraordinary comments of all are the areas of the report talking about me ‘not aligning with (Coutts’s) views’ and suggesting I must be barred because I do not support the diversity, policies and ‘purpose’ of Coutts, as though Britain is a political regime and I am a dissident,” Farage wrote.
Watch: Nigel Farage says Coutts document shows his account was shut over his views
Farage insisted the bank’s move “had nothing to do with my finances” and that the report found his funds were “sufficient to retain on a commercial basis”.
Coutts said their ability to respond “is restricted by our obligations of client confidentiality”.
But they added in a statement: “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.“
Nigel Farage claims Coutts closed his bank account because of his ‘values’ (Evening Standard, 2 min)
More MPs come out in support of Farage
As the row over the dossier continued, more MPs came out to back Farage.
Energy security secretary Grant Shapps described Coutts’ decision as “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.”
Tory MPs Jacob Rees-Mogg and David Davis also both raised the issue and spoke out against Coutts during PMQs this week.
The Coutts scandal exposes the sinister nature of much of the Diversity, Equity & Inclusion industry. Apparently anyone who wants to control our borders & stop the boats can be branded ‘xenophobic’ & have their bank account closed in the name of ‘inclusivity’. 1/2
— Suella Braverman MP (@SuellaBraverman) July 19, 2023
Former Brexit secretary Davis said it amounted to “thinly veiled political discrimination” and called it a “vindictive, irresponsible and undemocratic action”.
Foreign secretary James Cleverly said the decision “completely undermines the trust we have in our banking and financial systems”.
Senior Tories round on Coutts over Nigel Farage bank account closure (Sky News, 4 min)
After the dossier was published pressure mounted on NatWest to intervene in Coutts's actions.
On Thursday Dame Rose said that the “deeply inappropriate comments made in the now-published papers prepared for the Wealth Reputation Risk Committee, do not reflect the view of the bank”, as she apologised to Mr Farage.
“No individual should have to read such comments and I apologise to Mr Farage for this.
“I have written to him today to make that apology and reiterate our offer of alternative banking arrangements.
“In addition, I am commissioning a full review of the Coutts’ processes for how these decisions are made and communicated to ensure we provide a better, more transparent experience for all our customers in the future.”
Government promises reform
On Thursday the government also announced it was considering making new laws to stop banks closing customers’ accounts because they disagree with their political views.
The Treasury is expected to announce plans as soon as next week to extend the notice time given to customers to close their accounts from one month to three months, The Times said.
Banks will also have to give an explanation of why the accounts are being closed and customers will be able to appeal against the decision.
Banks ‘have to look at the profiles they’re doing business with’ (Twitter, 2 min)