The City minister has said it would not be “helpful” for the NatWest chairman to quit as a result of the crisis over Nigel Farage’s Coutts bank account.
Andrew Griffith said Sir Howard Davies’ resignation would not alleviate the situation, with NatWest having already lost its chief executive, Dame Alison Rose, and Peter Flavel, the head of Coutts, its private banking arm.
On Thursday, Rishi Sunak declined to offer Davies his backing. However, on Friday evening, Griffith said on BBC Radio 4’s Any Questions: “I don’t think that Sir Howard Davies going now would be helpful.”
Davies is due to leave next year, with his departure having been announced before the row erupted. Griffith said: “Alison was the chief executive responsible for the day-to-day conduct of that organisation. Sir Howard is the chairman of the board. He’s already going; they’re looking for a new chairman … The important thing is there’s an independent investigation. I want to find out what was going on.”
The banking group has been under intense pressure in recent days after it emerged that an account with Coutts belonging to Farage, the former Ukip leader, had been closed without explanation.
Farage claimed it was because of his political views, while a BBC report cited an anonymous source as suggesting it had more to do with his personal finances. He later obtained internal documents that demonstrated the bank had taken into consideration both what it termed as his “xenophobic, chauvinistic and racist views” and its belief that he had fallen “below commercial criteria for some time”.
The BBC faced criticism for its reporting and apologised to Farage. Rose admitted being the broadcaster’s source and, despite initial backing from Davies to stay in her job, resigned in the early hours of Wednesday after the prime minister and the chancellor, Jeremy Hunt, intervened.
The row over the issue highlighted other cases that had received significantly less publicity. On Thursday, the chair of Finsbury Park mosque, Mohammed Kozbar, claimed there was a “double standard” in the treatment of his organisation, compared with that of Farage.
Almost a decade ago, three Muslim organisations – including the north London mosque – had their HSBC bank accounts shut. There was little public acknowledgment or support at the time, Kozbar said, leaving him frustrated that British Muslims struggling with this problem have been left to do so alone.
It also emerged that the True and Fair party, led by the anti-Brexit campaigner Gina Miller, had been told this month by Monzo that its bank account would close in September. Miller said if new political parties could not access banking services, “we don’t have a functioning democracy” and that it was a “bigger issue” than the closure of Farage’s bank account.
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After Rose’s resignation, Davies said she had been pushed out due to political pressure. He said he believed offering her his backing was a “rational decision to make at the time” but added: “The political reaction to that, was such that Alison and I then concluded, and the board supported the view, that her position was then untenable.”
The bank has appointed the law firm Travers Smith to lead an independent review into how it handled the Farage case, including Coutts’ policies in relation to customer account closures.
NatWest Group announced its financial results on Friday, revealing its operating pre-tax profit hit £3.6bn in the six months to the end of June, up £1bn from the same time a year ago.