NatWest chief executive Dame Alison Rose is under acute pressure after Downing Street and the chancellor of the exchequer questioned her conduct in discussing Nigel Farage’s banking arrangements with a BBC journalist.
Sky News understands that Chancellor Jeremy Hunt has “significant concerns” over Dame Alison’s handling of the fallout from Mr Farage’s termination as a customer of Coutts, the private bank wholly owned by NatWest.
On Tuesday Dame Alison apologised to the former UKIP leader for discussing his affairs with BBC business editor Simon Jack at a charity dinner. She received a vote of confidence from the bank’s board despite making what it called a “regrettable error of judgment”.
That position may be untenable given the concern expressed by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and the chancellor, who effectively control the taxpayer’s 39% stake in a bank.
Further pressure will come when Treasury Secretary Andrew Griffith meets with 19 banks and building societies, including NatWest, to stress that customers should not be denied access to financial services on political grounds.
On Friday, Dame Alison is scheduled to front NatWest’s financial results announcement, a key test of investor confidence.
In a statement she admitted that her conversation with the BBC’s Mr Jack – which followed Mr Farage’s claim that he had been dumped by Coutts because of his political views – represented a “significant error of judgment”.
The day after the conversation, Mr Jack reported that Mr Farage’s account had been closed because he did not meet the bank’s wealth threshold.
Following the report, Mr Farage published the contents of a 40-page dossier compiled by Coutts that cited his political views as a factor in the decision to terminate his account.
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The file described him as a “disingenuous grifter” and said he was seen by some as having “xenophobic and racist”, views at odds with the bank’s values.
Dame Alison admitted that her conversation with Mr Jack gave the impression the closure was “solely a commercial decision”.
She claimed not to have revealed personal financial details of Mr Farage to the journalist, and only answered a “general question” on the bank’s eligibility criteria.
She insisted that she was not aware of the Coutts dossier at the time of the conversation with Mr Jack, and in April had been told only that Mr Farage’s account was closed on commercial grounds.
Mr Farage told Sky News: “I think her position is totally untenable. Anybody, even a junior clerk in the bank, if they breached the confidence of a customer would have to go… I don’t believe for a moment she will be there by the end of Friday.”