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The Treasury will convene the heads of Britain’s biggest banks this week to explain how they plan to ensure customers are not “unbanked” for their political views after Coutts closed the account of former UK Independence Party leader Nigel Farage.
NatWest, Lloyds, HSBC and Barclays are among 19 banks and fintechs to be called to a meeting after Farage’s treatment sparked a political backlash and prompted the government to speed up plans to crack down on unfair account closures.
Andrew Griffith, Economic Secretary to the Treasury, will write to banks on Monday.
They will be asked to show how they will ensure “customers can access payment accounts without fear of being unbanked for their lawful expression”, according to a draft of the letter seen by the Financial Times.
Coutts and his owner, NatWest, have been under fire since Farage came out last week a 40-page folder of Coutts showing that his account had been shut down in part because his views were “at odds with our position as an inclusive organization”.
NatWest chief executive Dame Alison Rose has apologized to Farage for the move and has pledged to oversee a review of processes at Coutts, a high-end private bank whose clients include King Charles.
According to the Treasury’s draft letter, senior bank officials will also be pressed on how they intend to implement rules hastily announced last week which the government says are designed to protect customers’ right to free speech.
The measures include extending the notice period for abandoned customers from 30 days to 90 days and providing customers with a fuller explanation of the decision to abandon them.
“Consistent with the strength of sentiments expressed across parliament, companies should seek to take action on this policy as soon as possible and do their best to implement it,” according to the draft letter.
NatWest, whose largest shareholder is the UK government following its bailout during the 2008 financial crisis, did not say whether Rose was personally involved in closing Farage’s account.
The Brexit leader and TV presenter said he had submitted a so-called special access request in a bid to find out if Rose was involved.
NatWest, Lloyds and HSBC all declined to comment. Barclays and the Treasury did not immediately respond to a request for comment.