UK banks risk losing licenses for debanking customers over political views

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The British government may impose tighter freedom of speech protections on banking permits following a public dispute between Nigel Farage and Coutts bank.

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The British government is reportedly set to announce measures that could see banks stripped of their license if they choose to debank customers due to their political views. 

A July 20 report from The Times said the United Kingdom’s government is considering tighter conditions on banking permits that would seek to protect freedom of speech. A final decision is yet to be made, but the U.K. Treasury is expected to announce the new rules as soon as next week.

The new provisions would reportedly force banks to give customers three months’ notice before closing their accounts. Additionally, banks will be required to provide an explicit reason for closing down accounts and customers will be granted the right of appeal.

The move comes in the wake of a dispute between politically conservative former politician Nigel Frarage and the U.K. private bank Coutts, which boasts British royal family members as clients.

Coutts closed Farage’s bank accounts earlier this month, saying his account had fallen below its threshold but leaked documents later revealed it was because his conservative views did not “align with [their] values.”

The documents obtained by Farage and shared by the Daily Mail detailed the minutes of a Coutts meeting concerning his accounts.

In the meeting, Coutts officials called Farage a “disingenuous grifter” and cited the “reputational risk” associated with his political views as the reasons for closing his accounts.

U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said it was “wrong.” He added “no one should be barred from using basic services for their political views. Free speech is the cornerstone of our democracy.”

Similarly, Home Secretary Suella Braverman accused Coutts of falling victim to “politically biased dogma.”

Related: UK banks are turning away crypto clients: Report

Alison Rose, the CEO of Coutts’ parent company NatWest Group, has since issued an apology for the “deeply inappropriate” comments made about Farage during the meeting and has agreed to re-open his account.

“It is absolutely not our policy to exit a customer on the basis of legally held political and personal views,” read the apology letter.

Farage, a former leader of the populist political parties Reform UK and the UK Independence Party (UKIP), is a vocal supporter of cryptocurrencies. On Dec. 3, 2020, Farage lauded Bitcoin (BTC) as the “ultimate anti-lockdown investment” and derided the British pound as government “funny money.”

Farage made an appearance at the Bitcoin Amsterdam Conference in 2022. In an interview with Cointelegraph, he praised Bitcoin for its anti-inflationary qualities and its immutability when compared to traditional banking infrastructure.

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