Rishi Sunak warns banks over blacklisting customers over their views

‘Free speech within the law is an important part of British liberty’: Rishi Sunak issues warning to banks over claims they are blacklisting customers with controversial views – as Chancellor Jeremy Hunt instructs ministers to investigate

The Government will take action against woke banks accused of blacklisting and dumping customers because of their views or politics because of its chilling effect on free speech, it was revealed today.

Chancellor Jeremy Hunt has asked his City minister Andrew Griffith to investigate cases where lenders closed the accounts of individuals or companies whose beliefs they disagree with on issues such as Brexit, gender or sexuality. 

The controversy has flared up after Nigel Farage revealed his long-standing account had been closed by his bank, while a vicar was dropped by another lender for questioning why their branches were displaying Pride flags. Freedom of speech campaigners including Toby Young have also been targeted.

Mr Griffiths told the Financial Times: ‘Banks and payment providers occupy a privileged place in society and it would be a concern if financial services were being denied to those exercising the right to lawful free speech’.

Mr Hunt is said to be ‘deeply concerned’ over claims that lenders are blacklisting customers they deem to hold contrary political beliefs and social values. And Rishi Sunak is too.

The PM’s official spokesman said today: ‘As you’ve seen from over the weekend, 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.

Rishi Sunak (L) greets Bahrain’s Prime Minister Prince Salman Bin Hamad Al Khalifa on the steps of 10 Downing Street today. The prime minister and Jeremy Hunt have asked the Treasury to investigate banks dumping 

Nigel Farage claimed his bank accounts are being shut due to Brexit – and says his family has also suffered in the same way

‘The Treasury is running call for evidence already to assess if the 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 risk. They’re going to report back soon.’

READ MORE Farage fears MI5 helped shut down his bank accounts, forcing the ex UKIP leader to consider LEAVING Britain 

The results of a government consultation on the subject is due to be published in the coming weeks.

The Treasury may recommend a more rigid notice period if banks and other lenders want to close a customer’s account, as well providing deeper justification via more information and evidence for such a move.

Regulators are also likely to be empowered to take action against banks that break the rules.

Officials believe that the recommendations can curb excessive behaviour by banks.

A Treasury source told the Daily Telegraph: ‘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.’

The source said that even people with extreme views should be entitled to hold a bank account as long as they have not broken any law through the expression of their beliefs.

Yorkshire Building Society was accused of closing the account of a client after he asked why its branches were festooned with Pride flags.

Journalist Toby Young told Nigel Farage on GB News that the unnamed man was told in response that his account would be closed down. It came as lenders were accused of axing customers who say things they do not like on gender and LGBT issues or Brexit, including Mr Farage himself.

Toby Young and Laurence Fox’s Reclaim Party have also suffered 

First Direct has also been accused of closing the account of the founder Wings over Scotland pro-Scottish independence blog, run by journalist Stuart Campbell. Mr Campbell has suggested that his accounts were closed because of his views on gender and sex, including declaring: ‘Women don’t have penises’

READ MORE Farage fears MI5 helped shut down his bank accounts, forcing the ex UKIP leader to consider LEAVING Britain 

Yorkshire Building Society declined to comment on the specific case, but a spokesman said: ‘We do not close savings accounts based on different opinions regarding beliefs.

‘We would only make the difficult decision to close a savings account if a customer is rude, abusive, violent or discriminates in any way.’

First Direct has also been accused of closing the accounts of journalist Stuart Campbell, who founded the Wings Over Scotland pro-Scottish independence blog.

Mr Campbell has suggested they were closed because of his views on gender and sex, including declaring: ‘Women don’t have penises.’

He said: ‘I’ve banked with them for 25-plus years, but last week I was in Sainsbury’s buying some milk and my card got declined.

‘I rang them up, and after over an hour on hold, they told me all my accounts had been cancelled. Was it political? Was it to do with Wings’ very public stance on gender, after the fiasco of PayPal pulling their services from the Free Speech Union and other similar incidents from woke financial service providers? Who knows? But it stinks.’

Mr Farage has revealed his bank accounts will be shut down this summer, without any proper explanation. 

READ MORE DOMINIC LAWSON: It’s not just Nigel Farage. My own daughter was blocked from opening a bank account for absurd and perverse reasons 

He further claimed that three members of his family have also recently had accounts closed by UK banks.

Mr Farage has not named the bank which plans to shut his personal and business accounts, but it is understood to be Coutts, the 327-year-old private bank whose clients include members of the Royal Family.

It is owned by High Street giant NatWest, which is still 38.6 per cent owned by the taxpayer after it was bailed out following the 2008 financial crisis. Comparing Britain to ‘communist China’, Mr Farage told the Mail: ‘Some of these ridiculous rules and closures have been extended to my immediate family.

‘I am enraged and also have a feeling of guilt that members of my family are being punished for my campaign to leave the European Union.’

Warning that anyone in Britain could be next, he added: ‘The banking industry in the UK has become politicised. We are going down a road where anybody in Britain could say something on Facebook or Twitter that a bank doesn’t like and lose their accounts.’

Coutts and NatWest were both approached for comment. A First Direct spokesman said it would not comment on individual cases, but added: ‘In general terms, decisions to end a customer relationship are not taken lightly, but are absolutely not based on individual beliefs.’

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