NatWest boss Dame Alison Rose has resigned after the revelation she leaked details concerning Nigel Farage’s bank account closure with a BBC journalist.
Mr Farage was just one of the countless individuals that reported having their bank account closed with no explanation, as reported by Techround earlier this year when we reported on Tide Bank and others affecting numerous customers.
After shutting down the bank accounts of people for no more reason than having controversial views became a widespread practice, the debate over the jurisdiction of banks was soon to follow.
While the actions of banks left the public in uproar as well as downright confusion, one question stood alone: what on earth is going on with banks and financial institutions in the UK?
TechRound’s Founder and Editor-in-Chief discussed this further on GB News on 25th July 2023:
Head To Head: NatWest Versus Nigel Farage
In recent months, Mr Farage has been at the forefront of the story surrounding account closures after no less than ten banks refused an account to him.
But this came to a head in early July after the BBC published an inaccurate report citing Mr Farage’s account closure as being a result of the politician no longer meeting the wealth threshold for Coutts, the private banking arm of NatWest.
Earlier this month Mr Farage, the former leader of the UK Independence Party and Brexiteer, reported that his account had been closed:
“Coutts had closed my business and my personal accounts and had not given any reason whatsoever”, the former UKIP leader reported on GBNews. Though Mr Farage later acquired dossiers indicating his account was shut by Coutts because it had found his public statements did “not align” with its values.
The document had concerns that he was “xenophobic and racist”, and assessed the reputational risk of having Mr Farage as a customer.
Initially, in its own admission, the BBC cited their source material as someone familiar with the matter. In the later revelation that Dame Alison was involved, she defended her conversations with the journalist as being something she had believed to be public knowledge.
The NatWest boss argued she had not revealed any personal financial information about Mr Farage. She told BBC business editor Simon Jack “she had confirmed that Mr Farage was a Coutts customer and he had been offered a NatWest bank account”.
“In response to a general question about eligibility criteria required to bank with Coutts and NatWest, I said that guidance on both was publicly available on their websites.”
“In doing so, I recognise that I left Mr Jack with the impression that the decision to close Mr Farage’s accounts was solely a commercial one,” she said.
She added: “I was wrong to respond to any question raised by the BBC about this case. I want to extend my sincere apologies to Mr Farage for the personal hurt this has caused him and I have written to him today.”
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Backlash In Parliament: “A Disgrace From Start To Finish”
Despite her initial admission of involvement, Dame Alison has since apologised for discussing the closure of Nigel Farage’s account at NatWest’s private banking arm Coutts with a BBC journalist, calling it a “serious error of judgement”.
Although NatWest said it had full confidence in Dame Alison at the helm, pressure from parliament soon followed with calls that the bank’s boss must resign.
Not only did several Tory MPs including former cabinet minister David Davis lash out against Dame Alison’s actions, but Downing Street and Chancellor Jeremy Hunt were also reported to have “significant concerns” over her conduct.
MP Saqib Bhatti, the Conservative Party’s vice-chairman for business, said: “While it’s not for politicians to determine what the company should do, her position would appear to now be untenable.”
Simon Clarke, Conservative MP for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland, tweeted that the chancellor would be right to have concerns.
“The whole issue has been a disgrace from start to finish,” he wrote.
Sir Howard Davis, the chairman of NatWest group, initially met parliamentary concerns with defiance. He stated that “after careful reflection” the board members had decided the chief executive retained their “full confidence”.
But on Wednesday news broke that the NatWest boss had resigned, her four-year tenure as chief executive ending in ignominy.
Part Of A Bigger Problem: Farage, You’re Not The Only One
When she spoke to the BBC’s Simon Jack, Dame Alison said she had not seen the dossier obtained by Mr Farage. But once Mr Farage released details that Coutts had closed his account because of the reputational risk of having him as a customer, it became clear the event was part of a larger problem.
In February, Techround reported on banks across the UK and USA closing people’s accounts with no warning or reason given.
In the UK, unlike other things we are legally entitled to, such as food, water, and healthcare, there is no longer such thing as a ‘right’ to a bank account, despite this being just as necessary as the former.
But besides bank accounts being a financial necessity, their closures signify an equally worrying issue. While one may argue that closing social media accounts is done with the aim of preventing the circulation of views that could incite hate and violence, surely banks are overstepping their mark in this regard.
Financially isolating a person on account of their personal and political views must surely be an action beyond the jurisdiction of banks. Financial institutions should, of course, regulate our monetary movements. But one can only wonder how much punishment for personal rights and freedom of speech can be enacted before the idea of a democratic society in the UK can be seriously pulled into question.
A spokesperson for the Treasury echoed this sentiment: “We have been clear that people should be able to exercise lawful freedom of expression without the fear of having their bank accounts closed.
“The Economic Secretary to the Treasury has written to some of the UK’s biggest banks to reinforce that this is a fundamental right, and we will take the action necessary to protect it.”
These words give hope to the idea that, finally (and far past due), serious action will be taken to prevent the steps taken against Mr Faragae from happening to anyone else. Celebrity, known-person, and common civilian alike.
Number 10 reflected that Dame Alison has “done the right thing” by stepping down from her post.
Downing Street has also said Dame Alison is no longer a member of the prime minister’s business council. She has also left two roles she had with the Department for Energy after the secretary of state asked her to step down from both positions.
But is this far enough? Mr Farage has openly announced that he thinks not, stating he believes “the whole board needs to go” at NatWest.
Whilst this outcome remains unlikely, even for others embroiled such as Sir Howard Davis, Mr Faragae’s claims that he has been “approached by literally thousands of people all over this country that have been unfairly closed down by NatWest” can’t help but leave a bad taste in the mouth. What exactly is being done about this issue? How will the UK public be protected in the future?
Freedom of speech, including the right to offend and be offended, has certainly diminished in recent years. The sheer scope of technology as an enforcer to do this both on social media and online banking is a more serious concern.
The Economic Secretary, Andrew Griffith, is meeting bank leaders on Wednesday to discuss the issue of account closures. Now, we wait with bated breath over what the demise of Dame Rose will really do to protect this democratic nation.