The head of NatWest has apologized Nigel Farage over what he called “deeply inappropriate comments” about the former Ukip leader in an internal report that led to the closure of his accounts at the group’s exclusive private bank, Coutts.
Dame Alison Rose issued a public statement on Thursday and wrote a letter to Farage apologizing for the way the NatWest subsidiary had handled its decision to cut ties with the Brexit campaigner.
It came after a series of interventions by the prime minister and senior members of his cabinet, and more than two weeks after Farage first revealed that his accounts had been closed by Coutts because I no longer wanted him as a client.
On Thursday night, Farage welcomed Rose’s apology but said it was only “a start” and claimed she had been forced into it by the Treasury.
An internal report had described Farage as a “bogus fraud” who promotes “xenophobic, sexist and racist views”. After obtaining a copy and make it known to the pressFarage had described the dossier as a “prejudicial and unpleasant document”.
Rose said the comments, prepared for Coutts’ wealth reputational risk committee, “do not reflect the view of the bank”. He added: “No individual should have to read these comments and I apologize to Mr Farage for this.” However, he stopped short of reinstating Farage as a Coutts client, instead reiterating an offer to open him a basic account with NatWest.
After days of mounting public and political pressure, Rishi Sunak stepped in to warn that “it would not be right to deny financial services to anyone exercising their right to lawful freedom of expression.” The Minister of the Interior, Suella Braverman, described the decision as “sinister”.
The government announced on Thursday that it would force banks to “explain and delay” any decision to close accounts. Andrew Griffith, economic secretary to the Treasury, said “banks occupy a privileged place in society” and must allow “everyone to express themselves freely” without fear of losing access to banking.
He also ordered the Financial Conduct Authority to start a review of the rules governing how banks deal with “politically exposed persons” (Peps) like Farage within the next two months. Lasting up to a year, the review will examine whether tough legacy EU rules on domestic Peps should be eased and kept for foreigners with UK bank accounts, in line with international standards.
Before Farage made the dossier public, reports had quoted Coutts sources as saying the decision to “oust” Farage it was only because his account had fallen below his “wealth limit”, which requires customers to borrow or invest at least £1m or have £3m in savings. The former politician fell below that threshold after his mortgage expired this year.
However, Coutts’ reputation committee report also said Farage posed a risk, accusing him of being “seen as xenophobic and racist” and of making comments that are “unsavory and seem increasingly out of touch with wider society”.
On his GB News program on Thursday night, Farage accused Rose of being forced to apologize by the Treasury. He said: “In life it’s always good to apologise, so thank you Dame Alison for apologizing. What I’ve been told quietly, privately, is that the Treasury forced you to do it.
“But at least you did, I guess. 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 there were thousands in the same position as him as he vowed to keep fighting. “I’m afraid I can’t get away from this. I’ve started this and I have to continue. So thanks for the apology. It’s a start, but it’s nothing more than that.”
Rose had said it was not the bank’s policy to “drop a customer on the basis of political and personal views legally”.