The chief executive of Natwest Group is facing calls to resign after she admitted being the source of an inaccurate story about the closure of Nigel Farage’s bank account.
Dame Alison Rose said she made a “serious error of judgment” when she discussed Farage’s relationship with private bank Coutts, owned by NatWest Group, with a BBC journalist.
But NatWest Group chairman Sir Howard Davies said that “after careful reflection” the board members had decided Dame Alison retained their “full confidence”.
Former Brexit Party leader Farage accused the bank’s management of a “serious breach” and called for Dame Alison, Sir Howard and Peter Flavel, the chief executive of Coutts, to stand down.
His call was echoed by Tory former cabinet minister David Davis, who said Dame Alison had “little choice but to resign”.
The update from the NatWest Group board came after Sir Howard was put under mounting pressure to determine whether Dame Alison had played a role in the leaking of Farage’s information.
Last week, Farage presented evidence, in the form of a 40-page dossier, that his account at Coutts was 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 that the account closure was motivated by commercial reasons only, citing Farage’s failure to meet a £1m 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”.
In a statement, released alongside Sir Howard, Dame Alison said she was the source of the story and admitted she made “a serious error of judgment” during her discussions with Jack.
She said: “I recognise that in my conversations with Simon Jack of the BBC, I made a serious error of judgment in discussing Mr Farage’s relationship with the bank. Believing it was public knowledge, I confirmed that Mr Farage was a Coutts customer and that he had been offered a NatWest bank account.
“Alongside this, I repeated what Mr Farage had already stated, that the bank saw this as a commercial decision. I would like to emphasise that in responding to Mr Jack’s questions I did not reveal any personal financial information about Mr Farage.
“In response to a general question about eligibility criteria required to bank with Coutts and NatWest I said that guidance on both was publicly available on their websites. In doing so, I recognise that I left Mr Jack with the impression that the decision to close Mr Farage’s accounts was solely a commercial one.”
Sir Howard said: “As she (Dame Alison) recognises, she should not have spoken in the way she did. This was a regrettable error of judgment on her part. The events will be taken into account in decisions on remuneration at the appropriate time.
“However, after careful reflection the board has concluded that it retains full confidence in Ms Rose as CEO of the bank.”
The chairman added that the “overall handling of the circumstances surrounding Mr Farage’s accounts has been unsatisfactory, with serious consequences for the bank”, before promising an independent review, which will be made public.
Sheldon Mills, Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) executive director for consumers and competition, said: “We have raised concerns with NatWest Group and Coutts about the allegations relating to account closures and breach of customer confidentiality since these came to light.”
On the independent review, he added: “It is vital that the review is well resourced and those conducting it have access to all the necessary information and people in order to investigate what happened swiftly and fully.
“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.”
Speaking on his GB News show, Farage accused Dame Alison of breaching the FCA’s conduct rules, adding: “I think there has been complete failure in this regard.”
The ex-MEP turned broadcaster went on: “It is perfectly clear to me that Peter Flavel, the CEO of Coutts, has not done his job at all. It is perfectly clear to me that Alison Rose is unfit to be the CEO of a big group and that Howard Davies, who is supposed to be in charge of governance, has failed as well.
“Given that we have a 39% stake in this – we, the great British public – I think at that investor statement on Friday morning, the Government ought to say we have no confidence in this management. Frankly, I think they should all go and that is my conclusion from what we’ve learned this afternoon.”
Also appearing on the show, former Brexit secretary Davis said: “I’m afraid I think that Dame Alison Rose has little choice but to resign. And frankly, I’m astonished that the board of directors indicated full confidence in her.
“Frankly, if the head of a bank that I was a big shareholder of did this, I would say immediately, ‘I am sorry, it’s over, find a successor’.”