NatWest boss quits after admitting Farage leak but pressure remains on banks leadership

Dame Alison Rose has resigned but Nigel Farage is demanding NatWest goes further, as ITV News Business and Economics Editor Joel Hills reports

NatWest boss Dame Alison Rose has quit after admitting she was the source of an inaccurate story about Nigel Farage’s finances.

The banking group's chairman Sir Howard Davies said: “The Board and Alison Rose have agreed, by mutual consent, that she will step down as CEO of the NatWest Group. It is a sad moment.

“She has dedicated all her working life so far to NatWest and will leave many colleagues who respect and admire her,” he said in a statement released early on Wednesday morning.

Following her resignation Dame Alison has been removed from several government roles including her positions in the prime minister's business council, the energy efficiency taskforce and the net zero council.

Following her resignation Mr Farage said it is “a start” but the “whole Board needs to go”.

The GB News presenter called for a “cultural change” at NatWest and within the wider industry, as he promised to continue to campaign on account closures.

He said: "They ought to go back to being a bank, rather than being a moral arbiter for political positions."

Mr Farage added: “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."

He said he now wanted to support people who were being excluded by banks and campaign for a change in the law.

Shares in NatWest fell 3% on Wednesday morning, other banks saw theirs drop after Mr Farage called for a shake-up of the banking industry.

Who is Dame Alison Rose?

Dame Alison made history when she became the first woman to lead one of the UK's four largest banks in 2019.

Seen as a details-oriented chief executive, in private her employees would say her grasp of what was going on at the bank would leave them scrambling in response to her questions.She ditched Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) due to its links to the financial crisis in favour of NatWest, which over the years had grown to be the most prominent bank within the group.

When her appointment was announced, the government still owned 62% of RBS Group, a legacy of the company’s financial crisis bailout.

The taxpayer’s stake in the company has gradually reduced to 38.6% during her time in charge.

She also led the way in turning NatWest into an environmentally conscious bank, when just three months into her leadership she said the group would no longer provide funding to oil majors unless they had a “credible plan” to ensure their businesses were in line with the Paris climate agreement.

The NatWest brand replaced RBS. Credit: PA

In a statement of her own, Dame Alison thanked her colleagues “for all that they have done”, adding: “I remain 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.

Earlier, Dame Alison said she made a “serious error of judgment” when she discussed Mr Farage’s relationship with private bank Coutts, owned by NatWest Group, with a BBC journalist.

Sir Howard 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.

An emergency board meeting was called late on Tuesday night to determine her future, with the announcement of her resignation coming a few hours later.

How did we get here?

Last week, Mr 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 that the account closure was motivated by commercial reasons only, citing Mr 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”.

In a statement, released alongside Sir Howard on Tuesday evening, Dame Alison 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.”

The Chairman of the Royal Bank of Scotland Sir Howard Davies. Credit: PA

Sir Howard said 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 it had raised concerns about breaches of confidentiality by Coutts and its parent company NatWest.

He also emphasised the importance of a “well-resourced” independent review to investigate the matter “swiftly” and “fully”.

A string of Tory MPs, including former cabinet minister David Davis and Saqib Bhatti, the Conservative Party’s vice-chairman for business, had also called for Dame Alison’s resignation.

NatWest’s board of directors announced that 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.

City minister Andrew Griffith will meet Britain’s largest banks on Wednesday morning to address concerns related to customers’ “lawful freedom of expression”.

Want a quick and expert briefing on the biggest news stories? Listen to our latest podcasts to find out What You Need To Know...