The chief executive of one of NatWest, one of Britain’s biggest banks, left her job on Wednesday after discussing personal details of a client — the populist politician Nigel Farage — with a journalist.
The bank said Alison Rose was leaving “by mutual consent.” The surprise early-morning statement came just hours after NatWest had expressed full confidence in the CEO.
Farage, a right-wing talk show presenter and former leader of the pro-Brexit U.K. Independence Party, said his account with the private bank Coutts, owned by NatWest Group, had been closed down unfairly.
The BBC ran a story, based on an anonymous source at the bank, saying the account was closed because Farage did not meet Coutts’ 1 million pound ($1.3 million) borrowing requirement.
Farage then published details from the bank showing officials discussing his political views and the “reputational damage” associated with keeping him as a customer. The alleged bank documents said Farage was “seen as xenophobic and racist” and “considered by many to be a disingenuous grifter.”
On Tuesday evening, Rose apologized to Farage and acknowledged that she was the anonymous source of the inaccurate BBC report saying the decision to close Farage’s account was purely commercial.
Farage, a skilled seeker of attention and generator of outrage, accused the bank of stomping on the freedom of speech, and some members of the Conservative government echoed his concerns.
Andrew Griffith, the banking minister, is due to meet Britain’s largest banks on Wednesday morning to address concerns related to customers’ “lawful freedom of expression.”
Britain’s Treasury announced last week that U.K. banks will be subject to stricter rules over closing customers’ accounts. They will have to explain why they are shutting down someone’s account under the new rules, and give 90 days’ notice for such account closures. They previously have not had to provide a rationale for doing so.
The changes are intended to boost transparency for customers, but will not take away a banking firm’s right to close accounts of people deemed to be a reputational or political risk.
Farage welcomed Rose’s departure but said he wanted to see “a fundamental change of the banking laws.”
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