Posted on July 23, 2023

How I Was Nearly ‘De-Banked’ Because of My Friendship With Nigel Farage

Simon Heffer, The Telegraph, July 20, 2023

Four months ago, just before the end of the tax year, the very decent and capable man who advises me on my pension provisions dropped me a routine email.

He said that to cut my tax liability I should top up my pension fund before April 5. I did: but shortly after I had made the transfer of funds from my bank, he rang me in what I detected was a state of mild embarrassment.

Someone – I am not sure whether at the financial services firm for which my adviser works, or at the fund in which my pension is invested (a Standard Life SIPP) – had asked for more information about one aspect of my life before finally processing my additional investment.

Bemused, I asked what information they wanted – not being engaged in Russian sanctions-busting, money laundering or working as an agent of Beijing, I felt I had nothing to hide.

However, one of these institutions thought I had done something exceptionally dodgy: I was a friend of Nigel Farage.

This took me somewhat by surprise. I am indeed a friend of Nigel, whom I have known for 30 years. But we are not – how shall we say? – intimate. We have no business association of any description. I see him two or three times a year. We do not sit in poorly-lit cellars plotting the overthrow of the state or creating a new world order. So why on earth should my long-standing friendship with him – a man of blameless character, with no criminal record of any description – be of any interest to anyone else?

But that was not the only question. Every institution with which I am associated, whether in a professional capacity or in the course of some voluntary work I do, is (rightly) concerned to the point of obsession with data protection issues.

A lot of my friends do not know I am a friend of Nigel Farage. So how on earth did people in the financial services industry who handle the highly confidential area of my investments know it? And why, to put it bluntly, was it any of their bloody business?

Politically exposed person

My adviser was quite straight with me and told me my association with Nigel (if it can be aggrandised by that term) was of interest to the financial services industry because he was “a politically exposed person”, a term that, in my innocence, I had never heard up to that moment.

I made the nature of my association with Nigel clear to my adviser – and underlined the point that I do not have, and never have had, a financial relationship with him. My adviser was quite satisfied, my investment was accepted, and I put what seemed like an odd, but minor, matter behind me.

However, the scandalous disclosure that Coutts bank denied Nigel an account because, according to an internal dossier, he had views that did not coincide with those that one presumes their public relations advisers have told them to embrace as an institution, reminded me of my walk-on part in Nigel’s financial life a few months ago.

Had I had nothing to do at the time I would have made a point of looking into the question of what makes a politically exposed person, and indeed how and why someone had made it his or business to determine that I was a pal of one – and that details of Nigel Farage’s friendships and associations appear to have been shared right across the financial services industry.

But I was, at the time, taking on a pile of extra work tied to the impending Coronation, and working through the copy-edit of a 350,000-word book, and was too busy to think about it. I didn’t even get round to telling Nigel about this absurd incident. I now know he wouldn’t have been in the least surprised. But I now see it stinks to high heaven, in an attempt to weaponise the financial services industry on behalf of a whole political ideology against an opposing set of values.

Having spent much of my career as a journalist writing about politics and mixing with politicians, I presume the Farage list is not the only one on which my name appears. Some of my best friends are ex-cabinet ministers or senior figures in Westminster politics. And it is clear that one does not have to be an alleged racist – a term used completely wrongly by Coutts about Nigel Farage – to qualify as politically exposed, which appears to be a euphemism for anyone who does not hold orthodox woke views.

My former colleague Dominic Lawson has written of problems he encountered trying to open a bank account for his daughter, who has Down’s syndrome: the problem was that his late father, Nigel Lawson, a man of impeccable probity, had had the effrontery to challenge the orthodoxy of climate change, and therefore was “politically exposed”.

The list of questions that Coutts has to answer is set to get longer. Who did their dirty work for them in digging up supposed dirt on Nigel? And let’s not forget that the BBC must answer questions too for humiliating him on what appears to be the basis of a single conversation between Dame Alison Rose, the chief executive of NatWest, and the BBC’s business correspondent, and which appear to me to be far graver than those that arose in the Huw Edwards controversy.

In sharing such information as they found – such as who his friends were – were there breaches of data protection? Do I, and countless others, have a case in law against those who compiled the list of Farage friends? Indeed, never mind what improprieties have been perpetrated towards such friends and associates, what about the leak of confidential (and apparently false) information about his finances to the BBC? For that reason alone, shouldn’t Dame Alison have resigned? How can she begin to defend her behaviour?

In the sinister, public-relations driven obsession with diversity, inclusion and something called “equity”, institutions will now, it appears, say and do anything to appear to be on the right side of the woke orthodoxy. This now seems to include not just sacking customers for exercising their freedom of speech within the law, but digging dirt on them in a highly questionable fashion, and seeking to impede the financial lives of entirely innocent associates whose only crime is to be friends with people whose political views the diversity industry condemns. I wish I had an account with Coutts or NatWest, just so I could have the rapture of closing it.