No 10 issues warning to banks after Nigel Farage uproar

Government concerned about ‘free speech’ after former Brexit Party leader’s bank accounts shut

Adam Forrest
Political Correspondent
Monday 03 July 2023 17:48 BST
Farage claims he's being 'pushed out of UK' as people are 'trying to close his bank accounts'

UK banks must not close individuals’ accounts for political reasons, Rishi Sunak’s government has warned in an escalating row over freedom of speech sparked by Nigel Farage.

The former Ukip and Brexit Party leader said last week that his personal and business bank accounts had suddenly been closed – claiming it was an act of revenge by the “establishment” for Brexit.

Downing Street confirmed there were “concerns” at the highest levels of government and said the Treasury was now looking at the whether the banks were being overzealous in closing certain accounts.

Mr Sunak’s official spokesperson said: “The chancellor is concerned by some of the reports. Free speech within the law and the legitimate expression of differing views is an important part of British liberty.”

No 10 said the Treasury was already consulting on whether the banks’ current framework “strikes the right balance between the rights of a bank customer to express themselves freely and the right of a bank to manage commercial risks”.

Culture secretary Lucy Frazer said earlier on Monday that she was “concerned that people’s bank accounts might be closed for the wrong reasons” – warning that financial institutions should tread “very carefully” when it comes to people’s political views.

Mr Farage revealed last week that a major banking group he had been with for 43 years had phoned him two months previously to say “We are closing your accounts.”

He alleged that it amounted to “serious political persecution”, claiming that British banks are “part of the big corporate structures who did not want Brexit to happen”.

Meanwhile, Church of England vicar Rev Richard Fothergill told The Times that his own bank account with the Yorkshire Building Society had been closed after he complained about its support for what he has termed the “transsexual agenda” during Pride month. He accused the company of “bullying” him.

A Yorkshire Building Society spokesperson said the company did not close accounts for particular views but only if a customer is “rude, abusive, violent or discriminates in any way”.

Chancellor Jeremy Hunt ‘concerned’ by closure of accounts

The Treasury is set to demand that banks provide more information on a decision to shut an account, and that they offer a longer notice period, according to The Daily Telegraph, with the regulator expected to take action if rules are not followed.

A senior Treasury source told the newspaper: “It is absolutely a concern. No one should have their bank account denied on the grounds of freedom of expression. We expect to take action on this issue within weeks.”

Ms Frazer told LBC that she “agrees with Jeremy” on the issue. The cabinet minister said she was “quite concerned that people’s bank accounts might be closed for the wrong reasons”, adding: “And I do think that it is something that they should be thinking about very carefully.”

Mr Farage said that the “only explanation” he could think of for his bank’s decision was a claim made by senior Labour MP Chris Bryant in the Commons that the former Brexit Party leader had received almost £550,000 from the television network Russia Today.

“I simply point out that Nigel Farage received from Russia Today £548,573 in 2018 alone – from the Russian state,” said the MP.

But Mr Farage said Mr Bryant’s claim was “completely false”. He said: “I did not receive a penny from any source with even a link to Russia.”

Two former Brexit Party MEPs, Christina Jordan and Henrik Overgaard-Nielsen, have also claimed that their bank accounts have been shut down without explanation in recent years.

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in