Nigel Farage has called for a wider shake-up of the NatWest board, following the resignation of Dame Alison Rose after days of pressure on the banking group’s leadership.
In a statement released early on Wednesday, NatWest Group chairman Sir Howard Davies confirmed Dame Alison was stepping down.
It came after she admitted she had made a “serious error of judgment” when she discussed Farage’s relationship with private bank Coutts, owned by NatWest Group, with a BBC journalist.
Sir Howard had initially said the board members had decided the chief executive retained their “full confidence”, but her position became ever more uncertain after the Chancellor and Downing Street were said to have “serious concerns” over her conduct.
Former Ukip leader Farage welcomed the exit of Dame Alison as “a start”, but said changes need to go further.
He told the PA news agency: “Anybody on that board that backed that statement that was put out at 17.42 yesterday, a totally unsustainable and untrue statement, anybody that backed that behaviour, should be gone.”
He called for a “cultural change” at the bank and within the wider industry, as he promised to continue to campaign on account closures.
Farage said what is needed is a “cultural change within NatWest, they ought to go back to being a bank, rather than being a moral arbiter for political positions”.
He added: “But I think this culture runs deep through the entire banking industry. I think there is a massive anti-Brexit prejudice and I think the whole thing needs to change.”
An emergency board meeting was called late on Tuesday night to determine Dame Alison’s future, with the announcement of her resignation coming a few hours later.
Last week, Farage presented evidence, in the form of a 40-page dossier, that his account at Coutts had been closed partly due to his political views conflicting with the bank’s values.
The evidence obtained from the bank through a data request contradicted a BBC News story, which initially claimed the account closure was motivated by commercial reasons only, citing Farage’s failure to meet a £1 million borrowing requirement.
The BBC and its business editor Simon Jack apologised, saying the reporting had been based on information from a “trusted and senior source” but “turned out to be incomplete and inaccurate”.
Sir Howard said Dame Alison had “dedicated all her working life so far to NatWest and will leave many colleagues who respect and admire her”.
In a statement of her own, Dame Alison said she remains “immensely proud of the progress the bank has made in supporting people, families and business across the UK, and building the foundations for sustainable growth”.
A string of Tory MPs, including former cabinet minister David Davis and Saqib Bhatti, the Conservative Party’s vice-chairman for business, had called for her resignation.
NatWest’s board of directors announced Paul Thwaite, the current chief executive of the company’s commercial and institutional business, will take over Dame Alison’s responsibilities for an initial period of 12 months, pending regulatory approval.
The board said in a statement that a further process to appoint a permanent successor will take place “in due course”.
Dame Alison, a member of the Prime Minister’s business council, had been expected to join other banking bosses at a virtual meeting with City minister Andrew Griffith on Wednesday morning to discuss concerns related to customers’ “lawful freedom of expression”.
A No 10 source said Rishi Sunak “was concerned about the unfolding situation. Alison Rose has done the right thing in resigning”.
The source said: “Everyone would expect people in public life – whether that’s in a business leadership role or otherwise – to act responsibly and with integrity.”
Mr Griffith also said it was “right” that Dame Alison had stepped down.
He said: “This would never have happened if NatWest had not taken it upon itself to withdraw a bank account due to someone’s lawful political views. That was and is always unacceptable.
“I hope the whole financial sector learns from this incident. Its role is to serve customers well and fairly – not to tell them how or what to think.”
Farage said the “next step” is to support the changes introduced by Mr Griffith.
“But the entire industry needs to wake up to the absolutely appalling way it has been treating people all over the country,” he added.
“We bailed these people out and in return they close our branches, they close our personal and business accounts on a huge scale. We need real change here and I am going to go on pushing for it.”
On Tuesday, Sir Howard had promised an independent review into account closure arrangement at Coutts, in the wake of the concerns raised by Farage.
Sheldon Mills, executive director for consumers and competition at the Financial Conduct Authority, said it had raised concerns about breaches of confidentiality by Coutts and its parent company NatWest.
“On the basis of the review and any steps taken by other authorities, such as the Financial Ombudsman Service or Information Commissioner, on relevant complaints, we will decide if any further action is necessary,” he said.
It comes as policing minister Chris Philp said a lot of MPs or their families have been turned down by banking services because of rules around “politically exposed persons”.
Philp told Sky News: “The rules are set up for the right reasons but MPs quite often get caught by these pep rules because they’re applied kind of overzealously.
“It is not spoken about much but if you look at almost any MP, they will have had an experience like this, I think the Nigel Farage case is an extreme one, but I’m afraid it’s not unique.”