Nigel Farage said the NatWest culture around diversity and inclusion is actually “very divisive” as concerns grow that banks may be using ethics to cover for bad behaviour.
A major governance debate erupted after Dame Alison Rose, chief executive of NatWest which owns the private bank, resigned amid a row over the closure of the former Ukip leader’s Coutts account.
The bank said the decision to close Mr Farage’s account was taken partly due to him falling below Coutts’ “commercial criteria” and partly due to his political views.
The Brexit campaigner claims to have a 40-page document showing that the bank wanted him to leave given “his publicly stated views that were at odds with our position as an inclusive organisation”.
Mr Farage criticised the culture across the industry and called for the entire NatWest board to resign.
He told GB News: “It was the board that sanctioned this culture – a culture that talks about diversity and inclusion, and actually is very divisive and in my case, as you can clearly see, pretty poisonous stuff.”
It comes as policing minister Chris Philp said a lot of MPs or their families have been turned down by banking services because of “politically exposed persons” rules, which cover anyone considered to be higher risk because of their political connection.
Responding to the debate, Justin Doherty, chairman of reputation risk advisers Hemington Consulting, said the reputational damage to Natwest “shows what happens when a company or institution goes rogue and – in the most hypocritical manner imaginable – uses the cloak of ESG and ethics to behave badly”.
“It is a tragedy that well-intentioned initiatives such as diversity and inclusion and ESG have been subverted in this way, and hijacked by narrow agendas and partisan interests,” he said.
Mr Doherty warned that “other banks may have used ESG and D&I as cover for bad behaviour”.
“We do not yet know the full extent of this but thanks to government intervention and the media people are starting to come out of the woodwork and share their stories,” he said.
Meanwhile, Anthony Quigley, director and co-founder of the Corporate Governance Institute, said “all hell, rightly, broke loose” when it emerged that Coutts had dropped Mr Farage as a customer.
He said: “Farage has never been formally charged with any wrongdoing, and as a citizen of a democratic society, his freedom of speech matters just as much as anyone else’s.”
But Mr Quigley argued that ESG – a firm’s performance on environmental, social and governance issues – should not be confused with “woke capitalism”.
“The reality is that proper environmental, social and governance will strive to protect the diversity of thought and the freedom of speech of all involved – corporate bosses, their employees and their customers,” he said.
“ESG should not be confused with the radical ‘woke’ brigade, and Nigel Farage deserves better treatment.”
Meanwhile, Gary Greenwood, a banking analyst at Shore Capital, argued that banks will still need to consider whether their reputations will be tarnished by having some customers on their books as well as the legal and regulatory requirements such as financial crime.
Mr Greenwood said: “They’ve got their brands and reputations to consider as well.
“You wouldn’t expect any other independent business to be forced to take on any customer under the sun regardless.”
Last week Home Secretary Suella Braverman accused NatWest of “politically biased dogma” in a tweet, claiming that “the Coutts scandal exposes the sinister nature of much of the Diversity, Equity & Inclusion industry.”
NatWest declined a request for comment.