In the ongoing saga between Nigel Farage and the closure of his Coutts bank account, the head of NatWest bank and the BBC reporter, Simon Jack, who broke the story concerning the bank's version of events, have been drawn into the row.
On Friday, 21 July, Sky News reported that Mr Farage had submitted a complaint to the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) accusing NatWest of sharing his personal and financial data with the BBC. At the same time, his legal team wrote a separate letter to Information Commissioner John Edwards claiming that the bank's actions constitute a serious privacy violation and disregard client confidentiality. Earlier in the week, Mr Farage published details from a response to a subject access request made to Coutts in order to discover why his account was being closed. Farage's legal team claimed the information given to the BBC was incomplete and misleading.
As the story continued across another week, details emerged revealing that the CEO of NatWest, Dame Alison Rose, admitted she was the source for a controversial BBC story. Rose admitted that discussing Farage’s banking relationship with Coutts in a conversation with a BBC reporter earlier this month was a “serious error of judgment.”
In a statement on Tuesday, Rose said that in speaking to the reporter: “I repeated what Mr Farage had already stated, that the bank saw this as a commercial decision. I would like to emphasise that in responding to Mr Jack’s questions I did not reveal any personal financial information about Mr Farage... Put simply, I was wrong to respond to any question raised by the BBC about this case. I want to extend my sincere apologies to Mr Farage for the personal hurt this has caused him and I have written to him today.”
The revelation led to comments from Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Chancellor of the Exchequer Jeremy Hunt, with both having "serious concerns" over the suitability of Alison Rose to lead the bank taxpayers bailed out after the 2008 financial crisis. Added to the response from the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), which stated it could yet take “further action” if an independent review by the bank or an investigation by the ICO reveals wrongdoing, her position would be untenable. On Wednesday morning, Rose confirmed she had resigned, followed by Coutts chief executive Peter Flavel who resigned on Thursday as the crisis wipes £1bn off NatWest shares.
It was really the only conceivable outcome, as highlighted in this article by The Guardian, "Can Rose say in all honesty that she would have looked leniently on a NatWest employee in similar circumstances? And could the board of NatWest claim the same? Unlikely."
In a statement on Wednesday (see main article), Information Commissioner John Edwards expressed his concern over banks sharing personal information with the media. While normal processes will be followed concerning the specific complaint, on a broader level, Mr Edwards said, "We trust banks with our money and with our personal information. Any suggestion that this trust has been betrayed will be concerning for a bank’s customers, and for regulators like myself."
In relation to the types of information banks collect about customers, the statement confirmed the ICO would write to UK Finance to remind them of their data protection responsibilities.
While the events have been distressing for Mr Farage, his experience shows the importance of data protection rights. Mr Edwards explained, "The right to require an organisation to show you the information they hold about you, known as a subject access request, is a powerful one, and is one that is open to us all... It brings transparency, reassurance, and it can flag where errors have been made and where the record should be corrected."
Amidst all the commentary, one particularly underreported aspect was touched on by Will Dunn in The New Statesman (£), who highlighted the point; Nigel Farage, one of the most vocal opponents of the European Union, has unwittingly benefited from one of its laws. Despite attempts to paint the situation as NatWest punishing Farage for his political views or blaming "EU directives" for the closure of his account, it was actually Alison Rose's failure to protect his data rights under the UK's implementation of the General Data Protection Regulation that led to her resignation. In this case, European law was actually on his side.
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