Nigel Farage's Coutts row sees banks summoned to discuss reforms

Nigel Farage had his Coutts account closed over his political views. Credit: PA

Bank bosses will be summoned by the Treasury to discuss reforms, it has been reported, after Coutts closed Nigel Farage's account over opposition to his political views.

Treasury minister Andrew Griffith will reportedly warn banks he will “take all action necessary” to crack down on accounts being closed in response to customers’ views.

The economic secretary to the Treasury is set to send a letter to 19 bank chiefs on Monday inviting them for a meeting regarding changes the government is making to better protect customers, several newspapers have reported.

It comes after former UK Independence Party (Ukip) leader Mr Farage discovered his bank account was shut down by private bank Coutts, owned by NatWest Group, because it found his public statements did “not align” with its values.

The Treasury announced last week that banks will have to explain why they are shutting down an account under the new rules.

Previously they have not had to provide a rationale for doing so.

The notice period for a forced account closure will be extended from 30 days to 90 days.

The government said the extension should give customers more time to challenge the decision through the Financial Ombudsman Service or find a replacement bank.

City minister Mr Griffith is reportedly preparing to tell bank and building society chief executives that the recent allegations of “client de-banking” have “raised significant concern in both Houses of Parliament”.

“The government is unequivocal that banks and other payment service providers – which occupy a privileged place in society – should not be terminating contracts of payment account facilities on grounds relating to users’ exercising of their right to lawful freedom of expression,” the Conservative minister is expected to tell bank leaders.

“The government strongly supports this fundamental right afforded to all people in British society and will take the action necessary to protect it.”

Alison Rose, NatWest chief executive Credit: Nick Ansell/PA

He is set to add: “I am calling a roundtable at the earliest opportunity to hear your views on how you and your firms will ensure that customers can access payment accounts without fear of being de-banked for their lawful expression, and necessary actions to be taken to implement the reforms announced.”

Mr Farage, the former Brexit Party leader and MEP turned broadcaster, received an apology from NatWest chief executive Dame Alison Rose for the “deeply inappropriate comments” made about him in official papers.

Historic bank Coutts, which closed Mr Farage’s account earlier this year, cited his retweet of a Ricky Gervais joke about transwomen 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.

Bank boss Dame Alison said: “No individual should have to read such comments and I apologise to Mr Farage for this.”

She said was “commissioning a full review of the Coutts processes” on bank account closures.

Mr Farage, however did not appear to accept her apology.

On Twitter, he wrote: "Dame Alison Rose’s apology is a start, but it is no more than that."She needs to take responsibility as CEO, and is wrong to say the views of her own committee’s report don’t reflect the bank."I will now defend thousands of other people that have been de-banked on her watch."

The closure of Mr Farage’s accounts sparked outrage among senior Tory MPs, who had piled pressure on Coutts and its owner NatWest.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak had made plain his view that “no-one should be barred from using basic services for their political views”.

In her apology statement, 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.”