U.K. regulator dismisses claims of politically-motivated bank account closures — Brexiter Farage cries foul

A man leaves the headquarters of the private bank Coutts, in London, on July 28, 2023. British bank NatWest said on July 28, 2023 it had launched an independent review into its handling of arch-Brexiter Nigel Farage, whose account at the bank’s subsidiary Coutts, it controversially shut, costing the jobs of top executives.

Henry Nicholls/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

Referenced Symbols

The U.K.’s premier financial regulator said it found no evidence that banks closed customers accounts solely because of their political views, but admitted its investigation had gaps given its speed.

The Financial Conduct Authority began its report in August after claims by Nigel Farage, the former UK Independence Party leader, that he lost his account at private bank Coutts because the division of NatWest NWG, -0.40% — which is 39% owned by the U.K. government — disagreed with his political views, particularly his campaign for Brexit.

In an 85-page report published Tuesday, the FCA said all 34 financial institutions contacted had responded and none closed an account “primarily because of a customer’s political views” in the 12 months to June 2023.

“By far the most common reasons providers gave for declining, suspending or terminating an account were because it was inactive/dormant or because there were concerns about financial crime,” said the FCA. Where personal beliefs were given as a reason, for a majority of cases it was due to customer behavior, such as racist language directed at staff.

However, the regulator stressed that its investigation had been undertaken quickly “and to recognise gaps and inconsistencies within it, we do not believe we can currently accurately use aggregate figures or averages.”

“While no bank, building society or payment firm reported to us that they had closed accounts primarily due to someone’s political views, further work is needed for us to be sure,” said Nikhil Rathi, the FCA’s chief executive, on Tuesday

Farage, who had produced evidence that Coutts closed his account because the bank said it considered his views “at odds with our position as an inclusive organisation”, said the FCA report was “a complete and utter farce, it is a total whitewash, it is a joke”.

Dame Alison Rose resigned as NatWest chief executive in July after it emerged she had incorrectly briefed the BBC over why Coutts had closed Farage’s account.