Banks face a crackdown within days of their ‘cancelled’ account holders waking up to anti-views.
Chancellor Jeremy Hunt is planning an emergency law change following heated revelations that Coutts closed Nigel Farage’s account because his views ‘do not align with our values’.
Serial criminals who do not protect their customers’ free speech may even lose their license.
Home Secretary Suella Braverman led widespread condemnation of Coates yesterday, saying its extraordinary move against the former Ukip leader ‘reveals the very sinister nature of the diversity, equity and inclusion industry’.
Ms Braverman said the banks needed a ‘major rethink’, adding that it was wrong that ‘anyone who wants to control our borders and stop boats can be labeled as ‘xenophobic’ and their banks in the name of ‘inclusion’ Account may be terminated. ‘.’
Coates has closed the account of Nigel Farage (pictured) because his views ‘are not in line with our values’
The Coutts decision was revealed in a bombshell 36-page dossier which contradicted briefings given to the BBC that Mr Farage’s account had been closed for financial reasons.
Energy Secretary Grant Shapps described the bank’s move as ‘absolutely disgraceful’, while Rishi Sunak said it was ‘not right to deny financial services the right to exercise their legitimate free speech rights’. The Prime Minister told MPs that the government would ‘crack down on this practice’.
Downing Street said it would be ‘incredibly worrying and wrong’ if Mr Farage’s account was closed for political reasons. ‘No one should be barred from banking services for political opinion,’ a spokesman added.
Treasury sources said the chancellor was horrified by the contents of the dossier secretly compiled by Coutts on Mr Farage. It accused him of promoting ‘xenophobic, anarchist and racist views’ and referred to his ‘Thatcherite beliefs’. The document even attacked him for hosting a comedy sketch by Ricky Gervais, which it branded ‘transphobic’, and for his friendship with tennis star Novak Djokovic, who faced controversy by refusing to take the Covid vaccine.
Banks face crackdown in days to prevent ‘cancelled’ account holders from waking up with opposition views
It revealed that the bank’s ‘Wealth Reputational Risk Committee’ agreed at a meeting last November to expel Nigel Farage after he ‘demonstrated comments and behaviors that did not align with the bank’s purpose and values’.
A Treasury source said Mr Hunt was ‘not aware’ that banks had set up committees to ‘police’ customers’ political views and he was determined to act.
‘It is a serious concern if banks deny access to anyone to exercise their legitimate right to free speech,’ the source said. ‘The precedent of this set is very disturbing.’
Mr Hunt will introduce a change in the law in the coming days to require banks to give three months’ notice of their decision to close an account – and provide a valid reason for doing so.
A Treasury source said the move would prevent a repeat of the Coutts situation and give people a chance to have the Financial Ombudsman intervene and prevent account closures.
The Treasury is also considering imposing a new ‘free buck duty’ on banks as a condition of their license to operate in the UK. The change means that any bank that they believe has discriminated against a customer can have its license revoked.
Chancellor Jeremy Hunt (pictured) is planning an emergency law change after chilling revelations that Coates has closed Nigel Farage’s account because his views ‘don’t align with our values’
Mr Farage told the Mail that Cities Minister Andrew Griffiths had ‘contacted me personally to reassure me that they would look at the legislation’.
He said his experience made him fear the UK was moving towards a ‘Chinese-style social credit system’, where only those with ‘acceptable views’ could participate in society. ‘I have been effectively de-banked. How do I pay my gas bill? What did I do wrong? I have not broken the law,’ he said.
Mocking the bank’s decision, he said: ‘Do you understand, I have questioned the membership of the European Convention on Human Rights. Worse, I’m a Novak Djokovic fan. I mean, hit me, how bad of a person can I be personally?
‘I know Donald Trump, I mean the garlic is coming out at this point. It’s like a charge sheet of all the things that upper-middle-class, double-barreled-name type Coutts find completely unacceptable in their metropolitan bubble.’
He added: ‘My real message to people is, if they can cancel me, they can cancel you.’
Mr Farage also called for apologies from the BBC and the Financial Times for claims he was rejected by Coates after falling below the bank’s required financial threshold. The new dossier, which Mr Farage obtained using the Transparency Act, reveals there was no commercial basis for closing his account.
NatWest-owned Coutts yesterday declined to say why it closed the account.
The dossier acknowledged that forcing Mr Farage out could backfire, saying the bank faced a potential reputational risk because ‘if we let him go it’s very likely the client will ‘go public’. But the warning was not heeded.
The private bank is facing increasing questions over its policy of political testing for its account holders. It is under constant pressure to reveal whether its chairman, Lord Rement, was aware of the policy and whether it was approved by its board of directors.
Coutts declined to disclose how many accounts it has closed on political grounds, or what basis it used to make such decisions. There are growing calls for its executives to face Treasury Select Committee questions over the scandal.
The Financial Conduct Authority watchdog said it was talking to Coates’ parent bank, NatWest Group. Chief executive Nikhil Rathi said banks should not discriminate on the basis of political opinion, adding: ‘The law is clear.’
Last night, Coutts admitted its processes were ‘not transparent enough’ and said it would work with the government and the regulator. It said: ‘We recognize considerable interest in this area. We cannot comment on details given our customer privacy obligations. However, it is not Coutts’ policy to terminate customer accounts solely on the basis of legally held political and personal opinions.’
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