The NatWest saga is fast becoming a textbook example of what some consider to be an ‘establishment’ attack on minority (and often right-leaning) viewpoints. The fast U-turn from the NatWest board which now sees Dame Alison Rose out of a job (Mr Steerpike has the details here) confirms that this was not a nuanced or two-sided debate that the bank originally tried to make it out to be.
It’s no surprise, then, that the government has been fairly robust in its growing condemnation of NatWest’s actions. No. 10 insisted last night that it had serious concerns about the bank’s actions, and ministers have been saying it was ‘right’ for Rose to go.
City Minister Andrew Griffith is one of those MPs who has spoken out. Griffith said this morning that the decision to ‘withdraw a bank account due to someone’s lawful political views…was and is always unacceptable’. He called on the financial sector to ‘learn’ from this incident.
What will that lesson be? This NatWest debacle is not just raising questions about the threat of ‘debanking’, attacks on free speech and fears around losing access to cash (drawing our attention, once again, to the dangers of pursuing a cashless society). It is also putting pressure on the government to define its scope for intervention.
NatWest is in a unique position, as almost 40 per cent of the bank remains state-owned. This is down from over 80 per cent after the financial crisis, but is still a large chunk which is ultimately backed by the taxpayer. This put immediate pressure on the government to respond to the bank’s actions taken against Farage, as this is not a normal private company, but rather one which the ministers, and voters, have a stake in.