The Free Speech Union is delighted the government has decided to do something about ‘de-banking’. This is a sinister form of cancel culture that has no place in a modern democracy – and we deserve some of the credit for stamping it out.
As many of you will know, the Free Speech Union was de-banked by PayPal last September. We were given no notice and no proper explanation, just told our account was being closed, effective immediately. That posed a threat to our survival because about a third of our members were using PayPal to process their payments, but our appeals to the California-based company fell on deaf ears. Consequently, we kicked up an almighty fuss in the public square and, after senior politicians started asking questions, PayPal restored our account.
But we weren’t going to let the matter rest there. We saw this for what it was – the emergence of a Chinese-style social credit system in the UK, whereby if your political beliefs don’t align with the progressive ‘values’ of banks and payment processors you can lose access to their services. In an increasingly cashless society, that was a new and particularly effective type of censorship. It needed to be nipped in the bud.
We started talking to Andrew Griffith MP, the Economic Secretary, to see what could be done about it. He invited us to submit evidence to the Treasury about how widespread the de-banking phenomenon is. We duly did that, citing numerous cases – many of them members of the FSU – and the result is that the Payment Services Regulations are now being toughened up to stop banks and payment processors closing people’s accounts just because they’ve exercised their right to lawful free speech.
The government deserves a lot of credit for acting quickly and decisively. We started campaigning on this issue, the government listened – Nigel Farage also kicked up a stink when he was de-banked – and I’m happy to say it has done something about it.
The changes to the financial regulations will undoubtedly help, but they won’t be enough. While the Treasury has made it clear that payment services providers should not discriminate against customers for expressing their perfectly lawful beliefs, however unpalatable they might find them, they will come up with spurious, un-related reasons for closing people’s accounts, as Coutts did in Farage’s case.
Consequently, if you’ve been de-banked, the first thing you should do is submit a Subject Access Request (SAR), demanding to see whatever information the company in question is holding on you. We’ve just published a new set of FAQs telling people what to do if they’ve been de-banked, including how to submit an SAR. If it shows you’ve been discriminated against, you can then complain to the Financial Ombudsman Service and, if necessary, take the bank or payment processor to court.
The Free Speech Union has already helped several of its members navigate this process and we’ll be happy to help you too if you sign-up.
Even if you think you’ll never need our services, we’d urge you to join the fight and support our efforts to defend free speech. We have won a significant victory over the payment services providers, but fighting for free speech is like a game of Whac-A-Mole – every time you’ve defeated one enemy, another one pops up.
The price of freedom is eternal vigilance.