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Palestine campaigners criticise double standards over Nigel Farage bank fiasco

Outcry over former UKIP leader's account being closed in sharp contrast with lack of interest in cases involving Muslim and pro-Palestine organisations
Anti-EU campaigner Nigel Farage, former leader of the Brexit Party, at a press conference in central London on 20 March 2023 (AFP)

The furore over the closure of former UK Independence Party (UKIP) leader Nigel Farage's bank account has been greeted with some scepticism by pro-Palestinian organisations in the UK.

The high net worth private bank Coutts apologised to the anti-EU campaigner on Thursday for closing his account over views that the bank said did not "align" with its values.

Earlier this month Farage, who is also a former leader of the Brexit Party, obtained a 40-page report regarding the closure of his Coutts account which suggested he had been dropped as a result of his political views.

The dossier accused Farage of having "used racism, xenophobia, sexism and Islamophobia to stir up division", and of having "toxic connections to extreme and far-right figures across the world".

Farage described the dossier as a "personal hit job" on Thursday, and accused the bank of "acting like a political campaigning organisation".

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The move has provoked outcry, including from the British government, who said they would be bringing in legislation that would end the ability of banks to close customers' accounts without explanation.

The issue is nothing new, however, for numerous Muslim and pro-Palestinian organisations in the UK, who have for years been subject to bank closures as a result of their political views without a major backlash from politicians or the press.

In 2015, the Palestine Solidarity Campaign - the UK's most prominent pro-Palestinian organisation - had its bank account with the Co-operative Bank closed, with no further explanation cited than “the Bank’s risk appetite".

'Banks should not be able to deny access to facilities of groups or individuals on the basis of their political positions, without proper accountability'

- Ben Jamal, Palestine Solidarity Campaign

Ben Jamal, director of PSC, told Middle East Eye that there was a "long history of banks closing the accounts of progressive organisations campaigning for social justice, with no recourse to appeal.

"Banks should not be able to deny access to facilities of groups or individuals on the basis of their political positions, without proper accountability," Jamal said.

A number of similar organisations have also faced sudden account closures with little or no notice or explanation.

In 2016, the Friends of Al-Aqsa, another pro-Palestinian organisation, saw its bank account closed by the Co-operative Bank as well "without explanation".

North London's Finsbury Park mosque, the international development charity Ummah Welfare Trust (UWT) and think tank the Cordoba Foundation were all sent letters by HSBC in 2014, saying their accounts would be closed with two months' notice because they fell outside the bank's "risk appetite".

World-Check, a risk intelligence database widely used by banks and financial businesses, has been at the centre of much of the closures, with banks relying on the database to assess their clients.

In 2017, World-Check agreed to pay £10,000 in damages plus legal costs to the Finsbury Park mosque after it was wrongly linked to terrorist activities on the database.

Jamal welcomed the prospect of tighter regulations on bank closures.

"This principle, however, needs to be applied consistently," he said.

"It is of note that previous violations of it have not generated outcry within the media and across the political mainstream when those denied their rights have been advocates of progressive causes."

According to data acquired by the i newspaper, there were 8,584 complaints made to the UK's Financial Ombudsman between April 2018 and April 2023 about unfair current account closures.

A report in the Times suggested NatWest was set to be deluged by customers using Subject Access Requests - the method used by Farage to acquire his information - to force the bank to disclose information on the closures of their accounts.

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