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27 July

The Farage-Coutts scandal exposes the left’s hypocrisy

Liberals should be defending free speech, not an elite bank.

By Jordan Tyldesley

We appear to be living in strange political times indeed. The sort of topsy-turvy times in which many on the liberal left are enthusiastically defending an elite private banking division of NatWest for closing someone’s account without explanation before inaccurately telling a BBC journalist that the decision was solely a financial one.

While liberals and leftists demand we stop interfering in a private company’s affairs, devoted free marketeers are pausing to consider the rights of the person in question and calling for reforms to protect the public from corporate abuse. Curiouser and curiouser. Perhaps not when you consider that the person affected is Nigel Farage.

Throughout this rolling scandal some of the former Brexit Party leader’s detractors have celebrated his treatment – Coutts deemed that his views “do not align with our values” and that his account represented a “reputational risk” – while others have accused him of lying or sought to justify the bank’s behaviour. But since all of these options appear untenable, the current position of the day is to file the story under boring and insignificant.

Labour is now committed to being the party of business, which seemingly extends to defending elite banks. Rachel Reeves, the shadow chancellor, condemned the “bullying” of Alison Rose, the NatWest chief executive who resigned over the scandal, while Nick Thomas-Symonds, the shadow international trade secretary, rebuked our elected government for having the temerity to intervene. (Only Keir Starmer conceded that NatWest has “got this one wrong”.)

It is dispiriting but unsurprising to watch the left become so blinded by fury that it’s no longer able to think clearly and compassionately. Nobody should face financial consequences for holding political opinions, however unfashionable they may be in some quarters. After all, owing to the legacy of the 2008 financial crisis, the public still owns a 38.6 per cent stake in NatWest. Why should its executives masquerade as moral arbiters? For instance, it should concern everyone, not least anti-monarchists, that Coutts’s reputational risk committee cited Farage’s criticism of King Charles for accepting millions of euros in cash during meetings with the former Qatari prime minister.

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As more high street businesses refuse to accept cash, the notion that anyone could have their bank account suspended for political dissent is not only outrageous but cruel. If we tolerate this behaviour we can expect to end up in a situation where individuals feel intimidated into political subservience. This story is much bigger than Farage himself and we should be grateful that Coutts picked the wrong target this time. Let’s end the absurd corporate tyranny this scandal has exposed before it’s too late. If the left (and Labour) wants to salvage some credibility, it should rediscover its long-lost principles.

[See also: How should Labour deal with Nigel Farage?]

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