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One of Britain’s biggest selling newspapers, the Daily Mail, this morning splashed on what it described as the “chilling” news that Nigel Farage’s bank account had been closed down for “political reasons”.
The paper reported that Treasury officials were launching an investigation into the closure of people’s accounts because banks “do not like their views on controversial topics”.
The report followed claims by Farage that “the establishment are trying to force me out of the UK by closing my bank accounts”.
According to the former Brexit Party Leader, this is an example of “serious political persecution at the very highest level of our system”.
There is one problem with all of this. It doesn’t appear to be true.
In fact, according to a new report by the BBC, the decision to close Farage’s Coutts bank account was based not on his political views, but on the fact that his bank balance was below the threshold required by the elite provider.
According to the BBC’s Business Editor Simon Jack, “Coutts requires its customers to borrow or invest at least £1 million with the bank or hold £3 million in savings”.
Farage admitted to the BBC that he did not meet that required threshold.
His claim to have been unable to find another bank willing to give him an account also does not appear to be true. According to the BBC, Coutts’ owners actually offered him an alternative account at the high street bank Natwest, which he has not yet taken up.
Farage has since admitted this, telling his Twitter followers that he was offered a Natwest account last Thursday.
He continues to claim that “nine other banks” have refused him an account.
Too Good to Check
The row over Farage’s bank account has dominated the news for several days with at least two major newspapers splashing on the story, and multiple ministers talking about it in Parliament.
Even the Prime Minister himself got involved, with his spokesman telling journalists on Monday that the Treasury had launched a review of the issue to ensure that the “British liberty” of freedom of speech was protected by the banks.
And yet it now appears that this entire news cycle was based on what were, at the very least, highly questionable claims.
The story was given extra legs by Farage’s claimed status as a ‘Politically Exposed Person’, which he insists was behind the decision to close his Coutts account and his inability to get an alternative account elsewhere. Under banking regulations, PEPs are placed under additional scrutiny due to the potentially higher risks of bribery or corruption.
According to the BBC, Coutts has denied that this was anything to do with its decision to close his account. However, even if it were true, it would still have raised potential questions about Farage’s own finances and activities – none of which have featured in much of the coverage of this story.
Indeed, if it really were the case that Farage’s claimed PEP status was behind Coutts’ decision, as he suggests, then it would have potentially been a serious matter. Any suggestion that a major UK political figure may be the subject of concerns about potential fraud or money laundering would surely have to be treated seriously by all concerned.
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While there is no publicly available evidence to suggest that this was the case, there was also no available evidence to suggest that Farage’s claims to have been politically persecuted were true either.
And yet, large parts of the press took them entirely at face value, without any apparently credible grounds to do so.
Whatever the truth of Farage’s current banking difficulties, the approach taken to this story by large parts of the British press has been credulous to the point of being actively misleading.
There is a saying in journalism that some stories are simply ‘too good to check’. The joke here is that if a story perfectly fits the agenda of a particular publication, then it will set aside usual journalist scrutiny and simply print the claims as fact.
When it comes to these headline-grabbing claims of a right-wing politician being shut down by an ‘elite’ establishment because of his supposedly ‘politically incorrect’ views, that is exactly what appears to have happened.