Grant Shapps has condemned Coutts’ “absolutely disgraceful” decision to close the Nigel Farage accounts.
New documents, provided to He Telegraph newspaper of the former UKIP leader, appear to show that the bank chose to close Mr Farage’s account after it was decided that his views “do not align with our values”.
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writing on The TelegraphFarage criticized: “I think Coutts attacked me for personal and political reasons, since his report is more like a pre-trial report prepared by the prosecution in a case against a career criminal.”
The BBC had previously suggested that the Brexit leader fell below the financial threshold needed to have an account with Coutts.
Farage has now asked the BBC to apologize for its reporting on the story, confirming that he will complain to the corporation.
He said in a tweet: “Will (the BBC) apologize for reporting this story? … The BBC must correct their original story about me. I will be filing a complaint.”
In response to the news this morning, Mr Shapps, secretary for energy security and net zero, said sky news: “I think it is absolutely embarrassing. I don’t have to agree with everything Nigel Farage says to acknowledge that free speech is a very, very important part of our domestic lives.
“What has gone through some of these banks with the regime that is known as the PEP regime is really outrageous. People should not have their banks closed due to their political or any other opinion, and banks should not refuse to open accounts on that basis either.”
Mr Shapps was referring to Politically Exposed Persons or PEPs, who are people around the world considered for “prominent public roles”. Currently, the law recognizes the risk of PEPs abusing their positions for private gain and using the financial system to launder the proceeds of this abuse.
UK law requires ‘gatekeepers’ of the financial system to carry out enhanced checks on PEPs, their families and their known close associates. Companies must have measures in place to identify PEPs, assess the level of risk they represent, and manage the relationship appropriately.
Asked if the law might need to be changed in light of Mr. Farage’s case, Mr. Shapps continued: “Maybe. We will do whatever it takes. But I think that first of all, the Financial Conduct Authority must control this.
“And I know that Treasury ministers, Andrew Griffiths in particular, are actually acting on this, so we can expect to see more.”
This morning, Shadow Equalization Minister Alex Norris was also asked if MPs should legislate on the matter.
He said: “Details are emerging. We know the banking regulator is rightly challenging – I’ve spent the week fighting my bank over the PEP restrictions, and it’s right that they’re doing the process right.”
He added: “I would like to know what problem we were solving before I say new legislation was necessary, and I dare say the facts will soon be discovered in the days and weeks ahead.”
Commenting on Farage’s clash with Coutts earlier this month, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said the right to free speech must be respected “and that should not be an excuse to shut down anyone’s account.”
In its Telegraph article, Mr. Farage wrote: “The most extraordinary comments of all are the areas of the report talking about me ‘not aligning with (Coutts’) views’ and suggesting that I should be banned because I don’t support diversity, Coutts’ policies and ‘purpose’, as if Britain were a political regime and I was a dissident”.