Banks are to be told by the Treasury that they must protect free speech amid an escalating scandal involving the blacklisting of customers who hold views that are deemed verboten among corporate elites. The Telegraph has the story.
Jeremy Hunt, the Chancellor, is understood to be “deeply concerned” that overzealous lenders are closing down accounts because they disagree with customers’ opinions and has asked City minister Andrew Griffith to investigate the issue.
Whitehall sources said that results of a consultation on the subject will be published within weeks, after it was launched earlier this year in the wake of PayPal blocking the accounts of free speech groups.
The controversy flared up again last week after the leading Brexiteer Nigel Farage revealed his account had been closed by his bank. A vicar was also dropped as a customer after criticising his lender’s stance on LBGTQ+.
The Treasury is poised to recommend a more rigid notice period if payment providers, including high street lenders, want to close a customer’s account as well as requiring banks to provide more information about why they have decided to shut accounts. Regulators will be able to take action against banks that break the rules.
Officials believe that the recommendations can curb excessive behaviour by banks.
A senior Treasury source said: “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.”
Ministers are increasingly worried that there is a trend of closures affecting customers who hold controversial [sic] political views.
Mr. Farage last week said his bank accounts were closed “without explanation” and other high street lenders refused to allow him to transfer his funds to them.
Anglican vicar Reverend Richard Fothergill claimed that his Yorkshire Building Society account was shuttered days after writing to the bank to complain about its public messaging during Pride month.
A spokesman for Yorkshire Building Society said the company never closes accounts based on different opinions or beliefs, adding an account was only ever closed if a customer is “rude, abusive, violent or discriminates in any way”.
Government sources stressed that even people with extreme views should be entitled to hold a bank account if they have not broken the law.
The Treasury source added: “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.” …