Receive free NatWest Group updates
We’ll send you a myFT Daily Digest email rounding up the latest NatWest Group news every morning.
NatWest chief executive Alison Rose has stepped down after admitting to the inaccurate briefing of a BBC journalist about the closure of Nigel Farage’s bank account.
Her departure, after more than three decades at the taxpayer-backed lender, marks the latest escalation in a high-profile row between the former UK Independence party leader and one of Britain’s biggest banks.
Rose has been under mounting pressure since Farage, a divisive figure who presents a show on the GB News channel, produced evidence that NatWest’s private banking business Coutts had decided to close his account partly because his political views went against its values.
She admitted this week that she had given a BBC reporter the impression that Coutts took the decision solely for commercial reasons and said the conversation was a “serious error of judgment”. The broadcaster apologised to Farage on Tuesday for an inaccurate report about why his account was closed.
Hours before Rose’s departure was announced, Downing Street and the Treasury had raised concerns about the revelations that she had been the source of the inaccurate BBC report.
Treasury officials spoke to NatWest chair Sir Howard Davies on Tuesday night to convey ministers’ unhappiness with Rose’s actions not long before she resigned, according to government officials.
On Wednesday, Farage called for Davies, who has been chair of the bank since 2015, to step down. The bank should “put in place very quickly a new interim board”, he said.
The weeks-long row between Farage and the bank has raised questions about free speech and lenders’ rights to drop clients over their personal views. It began when the political pundit said on Twitter last month that “the establishment” was trying to “force” him out of the UK by closing his bank accounts.
The UK government has already rushed out new requirements that force banks to give customers a longer notice period when they close an account and to explain the reasons for the decision.
City minister Andrew Griffith said it was “right” that Rose had resigned. “This would never have happened if NatWest had not taken it upon itself to withdraw a bank account due to someone’s lawful political views . . . I hope the whole financial sector learns from this incident.”
Rose will leave the bank, whose biggest shareholder has been the UK government since a taxpayer bailout in the 2008 financial crisis, with immediate effect, NatWest said. She has worked there for more than 30 years and became chief executive in 2019.
Davies said Rose’s departure was a “sad moment”. The chair had previously said “after careful reflection” on the fiasco, Rose still had the board’s “full confidence”.
Paul Thwaite, chief executive of NatWest’s commercial and institutional business, will take over for 12 months while the bank searches for a permanent replacement.
Rose said she was “immensely proud of the progress the bank has made in supporting people, families and business across the UK, and building the foundations for sustainable growth”.
Farage obtained evidence from a data request to the bank. The information conflicted with a BBC News report that the closure was made purely for commercial reasons after Farage fell below a £1mn borrowing requirement.
Rose said this week that she did not disclose any personal financial information about Farage. “I want to extend my sincere apologies to Mr Farage for the personal hurt this has caused him . . . I would like to say sorry to the board and my colleagues,” she said in a statement.
Coutts is famous for banking the wealthy, with clients including King Charles, and requires customers to have at least £3mn in savings or £1mn in borrowings or investments.
NatWest is due to report its earnings for the first half of the year on Friday.
Thwaite, her interim replacement, has led the bank’s ringfenced commercial and institutional business for a year and previously ran its commercial banking division.
Farage said last week that he had requested further documents from NatWest in an attempt to find out whether Rose had any involvement in the decision to close his accounts.
Rose has said she was not involved in removing Farage as a customer and was not aware at the time of a report by the Coutts reputational risk committee that described Farage as “pandering to racists” and a “disingenuous grifter”.
Additional reporting by Daniel Thomas in London