Gordon Rayner, The Telegraph, July 18, 2023
Nigel Farage’s bank accounts were closed down after Coutts decided that his views “do not align with our values”, documents obtained by the former Ukip leader show.
A reputational risk committee “exited” Mr Farage after considering a dossier detailing his comments about Brexit, his friendship with Donald Trump and his views on LGBT rights among many reasons he was not “compatible with Coutts”.
The background briefing paper even made reference to Mr Farage’s friendship with Novak Djokovic, the former Wimbledon champion, as evidence that he was not as “inclusive” as the bank.
Earlier this month, the BBC and the Financial Times reported claims that the reason Mr Farage’s accounts were closed was that they fell below the financial threshold required by the bank. The BBC quoted sources “familiar with” the Coutts decision.
Yet in the 40 pages of documents released to Mr Farage after he made a subject access request to Coutts, the bank repeatedly says he “meets the EC [economic contribution] criteria for commercial retention”.
Writing for The Telegraph, Mr Farage accuses the private bank of “lying” about the real reason he was cut off, saying the documents show that the decision was politically driven.
He describes the file as a “Stasi-style surveillance report” and notes that the word Brexit appears in the report 86 times – which, he says, “perhaps tells us all we need to know”.
“Between 2014 and 2016, when I first banked with Coutts, no problems ever arose. After Brexit became a reality, everything changed,” he writes.
Minutes of a meeting of Coutts’ wealth reputational risk committee held on Nov 17 2022 state: “The committee did not think continuing to bank NF was compatible with Coutts given his publicly-stated views that were at odds with our position as an inclusive organisation.
“This was not a political decision but one centred around inclusivity and purpose.”
Mr Farage has said Coutts told him he was not being treated as a Politically Exposed Person (PEP) – a legal term for customers who are deemed risky for political reasons – but the dossier specifically states that he is one.
He writes: “Whoever at Coutts thought it clever to feed friendly media outlets outright lies about me sorely misjudged the situation.”
The document contains 39 mentions of Mr Trump, and Mr Farage says: “The fact that I support Donald Trump is part of this charge sheet.”
It says he is seen as “xenophobic and racist”, repeats claims that he was a “fascist” in his schooldays, and says he said things in the past that are “distasteful and appear increasingly out of touch with wider society”.
Mr Farage writes that the dossier “reads rather like a pre-trial brief drawn up by the prosecution in a case against a career criminal. Monthly press checks were made on me. My social media accounts were monitored. Anything considered ‘problematic’ was recorded. I was being watched”.
He is not the only Right-wing figure to have been denied banking facilities. Tory peers have disclosed that their children have been told they cannot have an account after banks made reference to their parentage, and dozens of other people have had accounts closed without explanation.
Mr Farage writes: “This story is not just about me. You could be next … if this situation is left unchecked, we will sleepwalk towards a China-style social credit system in which only those with the ‘correct’ views are allowed to fully participate in society.”
The Coutts committee decided to put him on a “glide path” to being ejected, with his personal and business accounts to be closed when his mortgage deal ended this year.
Mr Farage now says he cannot get an account with any other bank, having been turned down by 10 banks since Coutts withdrew its services. Members of his family have also been refused accounts by other banks, and one family member was told their account was being closed.
‘Completely against free speech’
Coutts, whose customers include members of the Royal family, is part of NatWest Group plc, which is 39 per cent owned by the taxpayer following the government bailout of the company in 2008.
Mr Farage said in a video posted on social media: “I thought the purpose of companies was to return dividends to their shareholders, and in this case that’s you and me … we are the shareholders, but they’re more bothered about putting up rainbow flags and being popular at dinner parties in Chelsea than they are about actually making money.
“From the tone of this document I must be one of the worst human beings ever to have inhabited this planet. But I guess if you were upper middle class, wealthy, London, metropolitan elite then that’s perhaps how you would view me, although quite what this has to do with banking and commerce I don’t really know.”
Mr Farage says he was informed that his accounts were being closed in a telephone call from Coutts last month, when he was told the reasons for the decision would be set out in a letter. When the letter arrived, it merely repeated the fact that his accounts were being closed and did not give a reason.
He told The Telegraph he emailed Peter Flavel, the bank’s chief executive, demanding an explanation, but did not get a response.
In his social media video, Mr Farage says: “This is completely against free speech, completely against liberty, completely against democracy.”
Some senior Tory MPs have called for a change in the law on PEPs to prevent abuse of the system. Under UK financial law, gatekeepers of the banking system must perform enhanced checks on people classed as PEPs, their families and close associates.
The Treasury has confirmed that it is reviewing whether banks are blacklisting customers with controversial political views. Under the new Financial Services and Markets Act, the Financial Conduct Authority will look at how banks deal with PEPs in a review to take place within the next year.
A spokesman for the Treasury said: “It would be of serious concern if financial services were being denied to anyone exercising their right to lawful free speech.
“We will soon set out plans to crack down on this practice by toughening the rules around account closures, protecting freedom of expression. In the meantime, people can complain to the Financial Ombudsman Service which has the power to direct a bank to reopen an account.”
Supporters of Mr Farage have warned that the PEP rules are increasingly being used to turn away any customers whose views the bank might disagree with.
Mr Farage says he is consulting his lawyers to decide what action is appropriate in the light of his treatment by Coutts.
A Coutts spokesman said: “Our ability to respond is restricted by our obligations of client confidentiality. Decisions to close accounts are not taken lightly and take into account a number of factors including commercial viability, reputational considerations, and legal and regulatory requirements.”