UK to review banks over blacklisting political clients

Nigel Farage among those denied access to various financial services after expressing certain views

Nigel Farage's bank account with Coutts was closed. Getty
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The government has said it will review how banks offer services to politicians after the accounts of Nigel Farage and others who expressed certain views were closed without explanation.

In a video posted to social media, the former Brexit Party leader complained he was the victim of “serious political persecution” and prejudice due to his role in campaigning for Britain to leave the EU.

However, the BBC, citing sources, said Mr Farage’s balance had fallen below the financial threshold necessary to hold an account at the exclusive private bank Coutts.

Reports have suggested others lost access to various financial services after they expressed certain views, including a vicar who said his account was being closed after he complained about his lender promoting transgender "ideology".

The government recently passed legislation requiring regulator the Financial Conduct Authority 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", said a spokesman for the Treasury.

“We are already looking into this issue and have a passed a law that requires the Financial Conduct Authority to review how banks treat politically exposed persons,” a department statement said.

"It would be a serious concern if financial services were being denied to those exercising the right to lawful free speech.”

The ministry spoke out against “cancel culture'” earlier this year as it began consulting on its payments regulations, including whether current rules were protecting freedom of expression.

Coutts requires its customers to borrow or invest at least £1 million ($1.27 million) or hold £3 million in savings.

People familiar with the decision over Mr Farage’s account said it was made on “commercial” grounds.

The report said Mr Farage was offered an account at NatWest, the high street bank that owns Coutts, instead.

The bank declined to comment to the BBC.

Bank lobby group UK Finance said accounts were only closed after an extensive review and potential reasons included breaches of terms, abusive or threatening behaviour or suspicious activity.

"If a firm concludes that it cannot continue to offer services, it must communicate this to the customer so far as permissible and in every case treat the customer fairly," a representative said.

Speaking in Parliament on Monday, Security Minister Tom Tugendhat underscored the dilemma facing the government over Mr Farage’s case.

“This sort of closure on political grounds – if that is indeed what has happened, and after all, we only have the allegation of it at this point – should be completely unacceptable,” he told MPs.

The Prime Minister’s spokesman Max Blain said Chancellor Jeremy Hunt was also concerned by the reports.

Mr Farage has given the Brexit cause considerable momentum in Britain's political right wing, which Prime Minister Rishi Sunak wants to keep onside.

Reclaim Party leader Laurence Fox called for a “run on the banks” and said he would be withdrawing his money from Barclays Bank Plc.

Meanwhile, Conservative MP Charles Walker said banks were too heavy-handed in their use of anti-money laundering rules against MPs.

“The situation is getting progressively worse,” he told GB News.

“I know of back bench members of Parliament who’ve never held any ministerial office at all being refused mortgages or having their bank accounts closed purely because they are MPs.”

The government review cited cases involving payments company PayPal, 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, a blog 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.

PayPal did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Updated: July 04, 2023, 2:01 PM