Farage, Facts & Free Speech

3 August 2023

Farage, Facts, and Free Speech

Populist victim or freedom fighter?

By Lynda Goetz

‘I don’t agree with Nigel Farage on most things, but…’ has been the opening sentence of a number of media pundits and high-profile personalities, before asserting that in spite of his apparently unfashionable or even ‘appalling’ views he should be entitled to have a bank account. Many have likened having an account with a bank to having access to the internet or electricity in the modern world. Without these things it is almost impossible to function in society. So, should banks have the right to choose which customers they do business with, in the same way as any other enterprise? This question, as Mr Farage has pointed out, is much bigger than his own relationship with Coutts, which, as most people are by now aware, recently ‘debanked’ him on the grounds, in a nutshell, that ‘his views do not align with our values’ and that such views were ‘out of touch with wider society’.  This conclusion was reached after the bank had spent time compiling a 40-page dossier on Nigel Farage’s contacts, associations and views of which they disapproved.

Although not popular with the political or media classes (and described by the Financial Times as ‘a divisive figure’), Nigel Farage will almost certainly have his place in the history books for his role in bringing about Brexit. Indeed, it is this which makes him particularly unpopular for those Establishment Remainers who are, even now, convinced that their views on the subject are right and the only ones any intelligent or educated person should hold. Those who voted to Leave, they claim, were those who didn’t understand the issues; those who were not university-educated; those who were bigoted, small-minded and xenophobic; ‘little islanders’. They are, of course, entitled to their views. They will almost certainly not suffer for them.

It is currently looking as if Farage may also be remembered for shedding light and promoting discussion on corporate ‘wokery’ and surveillance levels of which the general population had been totally unaware, as well as a banking industry seemingly more interested in competing for Stonewall and B Corp approval than in actually looking after and increasing the funds and moneys for which it is responsible.  After writing a somewhat mealy-mouthed apology (which did not offer to reinstate Farage’s accounts*) and trying to continue in post, Dame Alison Rose, CEO of NatWest, owner of Coutts, was finally forced to step down after evidence showed that she was responsible for giving a BBC journalist the inaccurate briefing which intimated that Farage’s account had been closed for ‘commercial reasons’ i.e. that he did not have enough money in his account. Peter Flavel, CEO of Coutts, has also stepped down. Farage is calling for the whole board to resign.

Apart from the fact that Dame Alison’s briefing was clearly untrue, even the lowliest of bank employees knows that revealing information about a person’s bank account is definitely against banking rules and regulations, let alone any wider privacy and data legislation. This breach of confidentiality was the last straw and resulted in Dame Alison stepping down.  The leak apart, though, was it alright for the bank to ‘exit’ Nigel Farage on the grounds that they disliked and didn’t agree with his political views? It is not difficult to argue the case that as a business, they have a right to contract only with those whom they choose to deal with. This is an ‘elite’ private bank, known for its exclusivity and financial requirements. They choose their customers and the bar is high. However, in spite of deciding that Farage was no longer a suitable customer, they have, in the past, acted as bankers to some extremely dubious, if moneyed, clients. General Pinochet, head of the military junta which ruled Chile from 1974 to 1990 and responsible for the torture and disappearance of thousands, had an account with the Miami branch of Coutts. The ruthless head of the Calabrian Ndrangheta, Emilio di Giovine, who spent eight years in jail in the 1990s likewise had a Coutts account.  Hosni Mubarak, former president of Egypt and his sons all had Coutts accounts. He was sentenced to three years for embezzlement in 2014 and also oversaw ‘systematic’ human rights abuses by the security forces during his presidency. There are also claims that millions of pounds of Russian money with links to the Russian government and the KGB was laundered through Coutts. In all these cases, the money put through the bank’s accounts was clearly of more importance than the political or moral views of the individuals concerned.

Former BBC journalist Emily Maitlis takes the view that for the ‘entitled’ Farage to attempt to turn this issue from a personal one into a wider ‘populist storm… is quite the move’. On podcast News Agents, which she hosts with Jon Sopel, she said “Farage made it an argument about free speech, about liberty, about censorship, when it wasn’t – no one was shutting him down, no one was stopping him from banking, no one was calling him names.” She took the view that Nigel Farage was using his position to provoke a culture war and that a ‘posh, private bank …is not a public utility’. She has a point, of course, but should a bank be able to shut down the accounts of individuals on the basis that they don’t like their views? This does smack of a society which does not believe in free speech, as Farage is arguing. The UK is supposedly not such a society. In China you are entitled to ‘social credits’ for conforming to Chinese Communist Party (CCP) views and behaviour.  Is this really the direction in which we wish to head? You will be allowed a bank account if you agree/conform to the prevailing government and corporate consensus; you will be allowed to buy or rent a house if your views are approved; your children can go to the schools of your choice provided your behaviours are acceptable? Already we do appear to be heading for a society in which many over 50s are retiring early to avoid brainwashing sessions run by HR departments and where telling an employee to ‘buck up’ and do their job properly can result in a disciplinary for bullying or even a suspension because that person has complained to HR.

The fact that the bank had employees spending time compiling a dossier on one of their clients (which they had no intention of revealing to him) is, as Suella Braverman pointed out when this came to light, ‘sinister’. How many other banks are busy snooping on their clients’ social media accounts, checking out their views on topics like diversity, inclusion, immigration, climate change, use of cash and so on? If their views are deemed unacceptable by the banks, are they too simply informed they are no longer entitled to keep a bank account? Once ‘debanked’ by one bank, how easy is it to obtain an account with another bank? What are you to do in the meantime? Nigel Farage managed to obtain the Coutts’ dossier by means of a ‘subject access request’, but how many others have simply tried writing to customer services without acknowledgement? Farage has now set up a website to support those who have been subject to account closures without explanation or proper notice, Accountclosed.org. (There already exists recourse to the Financial Ombudsman Service if you feel you have not received a satisfactory response from your bank and organisations such as the This is Money website can also be contacted for help).

Even if journalists like Maitlis think that Farage is trying to turn things around and claim ‘victimhood’, and if smug institutions worry more about diversity hires than bottom lines, they may well find that it is them, not Farage who is ‘out of touch with wider society’.

* They have apparently now been reinstated.

Cover page image: Gage Skidmore / wikimedia / Creative Commons

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