The boss of NatWest has apologised for comments made about former UKIP leader Nigel Farage in leaked internal reports written by the group’s private bank, Coutts.
The documents – which are believed to have been written in support of a decision to close Farage’s accounts with Coutts – were released by the Brexit campaigner to the press last week. The bank reportedly stated it was concerned that Farage’s “xenophobic, chauvinistic and racist views” posed a risk to its reputation.
The decision by Coutts to close Farage’s accounts apparently due to his controversial political stance has opened up a debate about whether banks should have the power to refuse customers based on political beliefs. UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said it “wouldn’t be right if financial services were being denied to anyone exercising their right to lawful free speech.”
Dame Alison Rose, who has been chief executive of NatWest Group since 2019, said the comments made about Farage were “deeply inappropriate” and wrote a letter to Farage apologising. She did not offer to reopen his accounts. Rose said it is not bank policy “to exit a customer on the basis of legally held political and personal views.”
Tom Tugendhat, the UK’s security minister has urged financial regulators to take legal action against banks who refuse customers based on political views.
The UK government has recently announced it will be requiring banks to “explain and delay” any decision to close people’s accounts. Andrew Griffith, economic secretary to the Treasury, said “banks occupy a privileged place in society” and must allow “everyone to express themselves freely.” The government has also ordered the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) to review rules around the treatment of Politically Exposed Persons (PEPs).
Current PEP banking rules are based on EU law. The FCA review will look into whether these rules should be loosened, bringing the UK’s stance in line with other international standards.