Nigel Farage has claimed that an apology from the chief executive of NatWest Group is only “a start”, as he pledged to keep on campaigning amid a political furore over the closure of bank accounts and freedom of speech.
Dame Alison Rose apologised to the former Ukip and Brexit Party leader on Thursday for “deeply inappropriate comments” made about him in official papers, saying she is “commissioning a full review of the Coutts’ processes” on bank account closures.
It comes after days of questions for private bank Coutts, owned by NatWest Group, after Farage claimed that his account was closed because of his political views.
The closure of Farage’s accounts sparked outrage among senior Tory MPs, with Prime Minister Rishi Sunak among those sharing concerns about the matter.
In a rapid turnaround, the Treasury announced on Thursday evening that UK banks would be subject to stricter rules over closing customers’ accounts, under changes designed to protect freedom of expression.
Farage, opening his show on GB News, praised the swift response from ministers but said questions remain for Dame Alison and NatWest.
In a statement, she said that the “deeply inappropriate comments made in the now-published papers prepared for the Wealth Reputation Risk Committee, do not reflect the view of the bank.
“No individual should have to read such comments and I apologise to Farage for this.
“I have written to him today to make that apology and reiterate our offer of alternative banking arrangements.
“In addition, I am commissioning a full review of the Coutts’ processes for how these decisions are made and communicated to ensure we provide a better, more transparent experience for all our customers in the future.”
But Farage hit back at the bank boss, who is also a member of the Prime Minister’s new Business Council, and accused her of being forced into an apology by the Treasury.
“In life it is always good to get an apology, so thank you Dame Alison for apologising. What I’ve actually been told quietly, privately, is that you were forced into doing this by the Treasury.
“But at least you’ve done it, I suppose. But the whole letter smacks of ‘not me, guv, I mean I’m just the chief executive, I mean, don’t blame me for what the banks under my direct control are doing’”.
He said that there were thousands in the same position as him, as he vowed to battle on.
“I’m afraid I can’t just walk away from this. I’ve started this, and I’ve got to continue. So thank you for the apology. It’s a start, but it’s no more than that.”
The bank, which closed Farage’s account earlier this year, cited his retweet of a joke by comedian Ricky Gervais about trans women and his friendship with tennis player Novak Djokovic, who is opposed to Covid vaccinations, to flag concerns that he is “xenophobic and racist” in documents seen by MailOnline.
Dame Alison said: “Both freedom of expression and access to banking are fundamental to our society.
“It is not our policy to exit a customer on the basis of legally held political and personal views.
“Decisions to close an account are not taken lightly and involve a number of factors including commercial viability, reputational considerations and legal and regulatory requirements.
“I fully understand the public concern that the processes for bank account closure are not sufficiently transparent.
“Customers have a right to expect their bank to make consistent decisions against publicly available criteria.
“Those decisions should also be communicated clearly and openly with them, within the constraints imposed by the law.
“To achieve this, wider change is required. But the experience of clients highlighted in recent days has shown we need act now to put our processes under scrutiny.”
But Farage said that questions remain, as he queried the offer of “alternative banking arrangements”.
“I also wonder if I go to NatWest, how long will it be before they close me down? Because there’s no guarantee that they’ll keep me as a customer and that does genuinely concern me,” he asked as he presented his show from Newport, Wales, in front of a live audience.
The changes announced by the Treasury will mean that banks will have to explain why they are shutting down someone’s account.
They previously have not had to provide a rationale for doing so.
The Government said it was stepping in to protect freedom of expression, over concerns that a person’s political views were being used as a reason for lenders to shut down their account.
The changes will not take away a banking firm’s right to close accounts of people deemed to be a reputational or political risk.
Instead, it will boost transparency for customers, therefore making it easier for them to appeal against the decision, the Treasury said.
It also extended the notice period for a forced account closure from 30 days to 90 days under the new rules.
This will give customers more time to challenge the decision through the Financial Ombudsman Service or find a replacement bank, it said.
Farage praised the response from the Government, telling his show: “Never before in my public life career, have I put my head over the parapet and received such support.”