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NatWest chairman refuses to quit over Farage account row as bank profits soar
28 July 2023, 11:12
NatWest's chairman has vowed to continue at the beleaguered bank amid the the row over the closure of Nigel Farage's account.
Sir Howard Davies said on Friday he will not quit to ensure "stability" after the resignations of former boss Dame Alison Rose and the boss of Coutts.
NatWest is 39 per cent owned by the taxpayer and Sir Howard said: "We do have the support of our main shareholder."
Yesterday Prime Minister Rishi Sunak refused to back Sir Howard.
When asked if he would support the chairman staying on until the middle of next year when Sir Howard is due to step down, the Prime Minister said: "This isn't about any one individual, it's about values - do you believe in free speech and not to be discriminated against because of your legally held views?"
Sir Howard's pledge to stay on, came as the bank announced a sharp rise in first-half profits - the last set of results under the leadership of Dame Alison. Pre-tax profits in the six months to 30 June soared to £3.6bn, from £2.6bn a year earlier.
Former UKIP leader Mr Farage has called on Sir Howard to step down.
Hours before Dame Alison resigned over the closure of Mr Farage's Coutts account, Sir Howard said the board retained "full confidence" in her.
But on Friday, he said: "The political reaction to that was such... her position was then untenable."
Following Dame Alison's resignation, Peter Flavel, the chief executive of Coutts, a subsidiary of NatWest where Mr Farage held his account, also quit.
While announcing NatWest's half-year results, Sir Howard said the bank had appointed City law firm Travers Smith to conduct an independent investigation into the closure of Mr Farage's account and how the information surrounding the issue had been handled.
Commenting on why the board continued to back Dame Alison after she admitted she had discussed Mr Farage's relationship with Coutts with a journalist, Sir Howard said: "We believe that was a rational decision to make at the time.
"However, the reaction, the political reaction to that was such that Alison and I then concluded, and the board supported the view, that her position was then untenable."
He added: "She would be running the bank in the face of very difficult headwinds and therefore we made a different decision."
Earlier this month, Mr Farage said that his account at Coutts had been closed and that he had not been given a reason.
The BBC reported that it was closed because he no longer met the wealth threshold for Coutts, citing a source familiar with the matter.
However, Mr Farage later obtained a report from the bank that indicated his political views were also considered.
NatWest declined to comment on what, if any, severance package Dame Alison would receive. Sir Howard said that any decisions on her pay would be made after the independent investigation had concluded and set out in the bank's annual report.
Last year, Dame Alison, who worked at NatWest for more than 30 years, was paid £5.25million.
In his first outing as Dame Alison's interim replacement, NatWest chief executive Paul Thwaite said: "It is an understatement to say that these are not ideal circumstances for anyone to take over.
"It is clear to me that we got some things wrong. It will take time to address some of those challenges. But I've already taken action and I'm determined we learn and start to move forward quickly."