Controversy over Coutts bank closing Nigel Farage’s account in a move that was reportedly due to his political views has prompted the Treasury to summon banks over the dangers of discriminating based on politics.
Economic secretary to the Treasury Andrew Griffith is set to write to the bosses of big banks to warn that over-zealous application of laws on politically exposed persons (PEPs) “do not provide grounds for account closure on the basis of political views”, it has been reported.
The former UKIP leader called for a Treasury Select Committee inquiry into NatWest after it emerged the bank had closed his account due to the “reputational” risks of being associated with him.
At first, the bank stated his account was closed because his finances did not reach their threshold, and said it did not close accounts “solely on the basis of legally held political and personal views”.
But a 40-page dossier on the information they had gathered about Mr Farage to justify the closure revealed that their conclusion was that his views were “at odds with our position as an inclusive organisation”.
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The dossier described Mr Farage a “disingenuous grifter” who projected “xenophobic, chauvinistic and racist views”, and recommended putting him on “a long glide-path” to an exit to coincide with the end of his mortgage.
Mr Griffith will write to 19 banks and financial services companies to insist the treatment of the former Ukip leader caused “significant concern in both Houses of Parliament”, the Sunday Express reported.
He will say: “The Government is unequivocal that banks and other payment service providers – which occupy a privileged place in society – should not be terminating contracts of payment account facilities on grounds relating to users’ exercising of their right to lawful freedom of expression.
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“The Government strongly supports this fundamental right afforded to all people in British society and will take the action necessary to protect it.”
He has also set out new reforms for account providers.
These include to give “at least 90 days’ notice when choosing to terminate a contract” except in serious circumstances, such as to prevent crime, and to provide customers with a “clear understanding why their payment account contract has been terminated”.
Mr Griffith said the aim of the regulations was to “ensure that customers can access payment accounts without fear of being de-banked for their lawful expression”
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According to the Sunday Times, Mr Farage had for a long time dealt with the same relationship manager Mark Pierce, before his account was passed to a Coutts executive named Min Fung.
The outspoken Brexiteer told the outlet: “A few months into the so-called relationship, he rang me to say, ‘We’re closing your accounts.’
“I said, ‘This is clearly because I’m a politically exposed person’. He said everything would be explained in a letter. The letter comes and it explains nothing it just says, ‘Your accounts are to close, please be gone by X date’.”
After complaining to the bank, Mr Farage said he was simply told to join the digital-only bank Revolut.
Dame Alison Rose, the chief executive of NatWest Group is now under fire for the decision.
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