Big FSU victory leads to UK banks making free speech commitment!
The heads of Britain’s biggest banks have committed to the principle of “non-discrimination based on lawful freedom of expression”, following a meeting with the financial services minister Andrew Griffith.
The news comes in the wake of Coutts’s politically motivated de-banking of former UKIP leader Nigel Farage, an incident that captured the media’s attention and has shone a spotlight on the growing problem of politically motivated financial censorship in western liberal democracies.
In a statement issued on Wednesday, Mr Griffith said that the bank bosses had committed to bring their policies into line with planned government reforms as soon as possible.
The reforms in question relate specifically to the UK Payment Services Regulations (i.e., the regulatory framework applied to over 1,000 banks and payment processors licensed to operate in the UK).
Some months ago, the government put in motion a review of the Regulations and sought evidence about politically motivated financial censorship. This followed a meeting between the FSU and Mr Griffith (see above) to discuss our own experience of being de-banked by PayPal. The Minister 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.
The consultation culminated in the government’s announcement last week of new measures to protect customers. Under the new rules, banks will be forced to explain any decision to close an account and the notice period for a closure will be extended to 90 days, giving customers more opportunity to challenge the decision. The payment services providers have also agreed not to de-bank people simply for exercising their right to lawful free speech.
The government deserves a lot of credit for acting quicky 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.
FSU publishes new FAQs on what to do if you’ve been de-banked!
When Coutts told Nigel Farage it was closing his accounts it said it was for commercial reasons, but the CEO then told the BBC Business Editor Simon Jack that it was because he had insufficient funds in his account.
A subsequent Subject Access Request (SAR) made by Farage revealed the real reason: the bank had compiled a 36-page dossier on him and concluded that his views “were at odds with our position as an inclusive organisation”. In other words, he was de-banked because Coutts disapproved of his perfectly lawful political beliefs.
Having found out the real reason Coutts closed his accounts via his SAR, Farage now has a range of options before him. He can can lodge a complaint with the Financial Ombudsman Service and the Financial Conduct Authority.
He can also sue Coutts for belief discrimination. Certain beliefs are protected by the Equality Act 2010, making it unlawful for companies to discriminate against you simply because you express those beliefs, and the government has indicated it’s going to revise the Payment Services Regulations 2017 to make it clear that banks and payment processors cannot discriminate against political figures such as Farage and, indeed, campaigning organisations such as the FSU. This is something we’ve been lobbying for since we were de-banked by PayPal last year.
I was a guest on Nigel’s GB News show last week, and he confessed that if I’d mentioned the words ‘Subject Access Request’ to him two months ago, he wouldn’t have had the foggiest idea what I was talking about. And yet, they’re one of the most powerful weapons we’ve got in the fight against politically motivated financial censorship.
That’s why the FSU has just published some FAQs about the steps you should take, including how to submit a Subject Access Request, and a template Subject Access Request you can copy and adapt. If you’re an FSU member who’s been de-banked you should contact our case team and they can help you follow the steps set out in these FAQs.
Gillian Philip case – show your support here!
FSU member Gillian Philip continues to fight for a woman’s right to state biological facts without fear of losing her job.
Gillian brought an Employment Tribunal claim against Working Partners and HarperCollins, arguing that she was unlawfully discriminated against when her contract to write children’s books was terminated because she expressed her support for JK Rowling on Twitter.
A preliminary hearing was held to determine whether Gillian’s claim had been filed in time and whether she had rights under the Equality Act 2010 as a worker or employee of Working Partners.
The judge at the Employment Tribunal described Gillian’s situation as unique. (The judgement can be found here.) Gillian won on the trickiest aspect of her case, delay in bringing a claim. The judge found that it was just and equitable to allow her case to be pleaded after the time limit because in the immediate aftermath of her sacking by Working Partners she was depressed following the death of her husband.
However, although Gillian won on the time question, she lost on the worker status question and so she is now appealing that part of the judgement to the Employment Appeal Tribunal.
In launching her appeal, Gillian will once again need your help. You can find out more about the case and pledge your support here.
FSU Events – an update!
Thank you to all members and supporters who have been to our series of recent events in London, Cambridge, Cardiff, Edinburgh and Manchester. We aim to create a network of free speech-loving people across the UK, meeting in person when possible and online when not.
We are taking a break in August but will be back with our next event on Wednesday 13th September, taking place in person at the Art Worker’s Guild in London and online via Zoom.
We have three speakers offering their perspectives on identity politics and cancel culture from a left-wing perspective. Inspired by the book Cancelled: The Left Way Back from Woke by political scientist and author Umut Ozkirimli, the event will feature Umut himself, Ashley Frawley and Alice Sullivan to consider how the Left can be persuaded to re-adopt free speech as a fundamental value.
Tickets will go on sale later this week, when we will also be in touch with members to offer a special discount code for this Autumn’s Battle of Ideas Festival, taking place on the 28th and 29th of October.
For access to the full range of FSU events and for discount tickets to our events and other people’s, do join the Free Speech Union. If you have suggestions for speakers or events you’d like to see, please email [email protected]
The latest episode of the FSU’s weekly podcast is out now!
In this week’s episode of That’s Debatable!, hosts Tom and Ben celebrate what is, arguably, our biggest victory to date – the changes to the Payment Services Regulations to make it much more difficult for banks and payment processors to cancel people’s accounts just because woke execs in the C-suite’s air-conditioned offices happen to find their lawful political beliefs ‘distasteful’. The link to listen in full – and for free! – is here.
Sibyl Ruth fundraiser – join the fight!
It’s been good to see the case of writer, editor and FSU member Sibyl Ruth gaining traction over the last few weeks (Express, Mail, Telegraph). Sibyl, who lost her job for pointing out that a man claiming to be a woman had a five o’clock shadow, is hoping to take her former employer to the Employment Tribunal in September – and needs your support.
You can find out more about the case and pledge your support here.
During a recent appearance on GB News’s Free Speech Nation with Andrew Doyle, Sibyl revealed a little more about what happened behind the scenes at Cornerstones, her former employer, in the lead-up to her contract termination. You can watch a clip of her interview here.
Institute of Actuaries’ respond to consultation on DEI
It was good to see Kemi Badenoch namechecking our organisation in the Sunday Times yesterday. The fact that we’ve supported more than 2,000 members who’ve lost their jobs or been disciplined at work for lawful free speech was cited by the Cabinet Minister as proof that a continuing obsession with diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) policies is contributing to a “Kafkaesque madness” in which people’s livelihoods are being threatened for exercising their right to lawful free speech.
As Kemi points out, the root of the problem is the way the Equality Act 2010 has essentially been weaponised, transmogrifying into a sword rather than the shield originally intended by Parliament. Although there are no protected groups in the legislation, only protected characteristics, activist employees are all too often allowed to proceed as if there were, which enables them to pressure companies into implementing affirmative DEI schemes that often fall foul of the law, while at the same time working in cahoots with HR departments to silence any employees who speak up against these deeply divisive policies.
In her article, Kemi limits herself to discussing companies, but upstream of companies are the many regulatory bodies that uphold professional standards in the workplace – and one of the UK’s biggest such organisations is now on the cusp of implementing a revised Code of Practice that will almost certainly end up playing into the hands of activist employees.
Back in April, the FSU responded to the Institute and Faculty of Actuaries’ (IFoA) consultation on amending the Actuaries’ Code (AC) to include DEI requirements. Since then, we’ve been helping many members of the FSU who are also members of the IFoA to submit their own responses.
The AC is the profession’s ethical code of conduct and one of the foundational documents governing the behaviour of members of the IFoA, so any changes will have considerable ramifications – not least because the IFoA has 32,000 members, including 15,000 student members and 46 partner universities.
It’s clearly important for professionals to be held to high standards of behaviour, and as with many other, similar rules, the Code applies to members across a broad range of circumstances – wherever conduct could reasonably be considered to reflect upon the profession. So, for example, social media posts or political activity in members’ personal lives are covered by the Code.
That said, the proposed new guidelines in the IFoA’s consultation show worrying signs of mission creep.
I’m particularly concerned by principle 1.2: “Members should encourage diversity, equity and inclusion.”
What does the IFoA mean by ‘equity’? This isn’t equality of opportunity, but equality of outcome, and can all too easily be understood to require significant adjustments to create a level playing field, discriminating against certain groups of people in favour of another, usually to right some perceived historical wrong. Or, as the critical race theorist Ibram X Kendi explains: “The only remedy to past discrimination is present discrimination.”
It’s in this context that King’s College London’s otherwise baffling recent decision to exclude white people from certain classes, can be seen as an everyday example of equity-in-action.
There is of course the whiff of US-style ‘positive discrimination’ about this understanding of equity – something that, as Kemi points out, is illegal in the UK.
But is this what the IFoA actually means by ‘equity’? Throughout the consultation period, the regulatory body seemed unclear on the substantial difference between equality and equity, providing a definition of ‘equity’ that implies equality of outcome, but then offering up practical examples that seem to be examples of equality of opportunity.
This month, however, the IFoA’s Summary of Consultation Responses relating to the new AC’s proposed DEI requirements was published – and, worryingly, it looks as if the body has now shifted firmly towards a hard-edged, equality of outcome standpoint when it comes to ‘equity’.
Not only does principle 1.2 remain intact – but, in addition, principle 1.1, which, going into the consultation read as follow: “Members must show respect for everyone and treat others fairly,” has now been changed. “[B]ased on feedback”, it becomes: “Members must show respect for everyone.” The phrase “treat others fairly” has gone.
According to the IFoA, the “feedback” it received “commented that the requirement to act ‘fairly’ conflicted with the obligation to encourage equity, because it was their view that equity (i.e., potentially treating others differently to address an underlying inequity) is ‘inherently unfair’”. Ibrahim X Kendi couldn’t have put it better himself.
And what of the proposal for Members to be required to “encourage” equity? What might that look like in practice? On what basis will Members be considered to be doing enough to actively encourage equity? And will this ambiguity create the scope for unjustified allegations of misconduct?
According to the consultation document, the Board will now publish guidance to support Members in understanding how they might personally fulfil this requirement. We await publication of that document with interest.
Guidance or no guidance, the danger is that the revised AC will be weaponised by activist employees, with the ‘equity’ clause used as a way of pointing the finger and hounding out individuals from the IFoA (or putting them through unnecessary and expensive disciplinary processes) for not doing enough to secure equality of outcome between different identity groups.
Defence Secretary in free speech row over FSU member Colonel Wright
Members and supporters may remember the case of FSU member Kelvin Wright, which I highlighted in June’s newsletter.
There was an interesting addendum to that story during the first week of July, when Defence Secretary Ben Wallace dismissed as “rubbish and untrue” reports that Colonel Kelvin Wright was investigated by the Army over a post stating “men cannot be women”.
But he was. Dr Wright has now responded in full to Mr Wallace’s claim that the investigation had “nothing to do with his views” (Telegraph).
Dr Wright, who served two tours in Afghanistan during his 14 years in the Army Reserve, felt he had no option but to resign after being hit with a transphobia complaint by the Army’s “LGBT champions” and then dragged through a Kafkaesque investigation that he describes as “hellish”. All he’d done wrong was to quote the gender critical feminist Helen Joyce on his private Facebook account.
Mr Wallace tweeted: “His views are NOT contrary to Army policy. Col Wright’s administrative investigation stemmed from Army social media policy and had nothing to do with his views.”
Yet emails to Dr Wright, seen by the Telegraph (and our case team) show that the investigating officer in his case referred specifically to the Army’s transgender policy.
“I’m tasked simply to investigate and report on the Facebook post as a single matter, looking at the facts as found, considering potentially applicable regulations such as AGAI67 and JSP 889 (the latter cited by the complainant), and any relevant service principles, such as the Army’s values and standards and the service test,” said one message from the investigating officer.
JSP 889 is the policy for the recruitment and management of transgender personnel in the Armed Forces, which says “all employees should be treated with dignity and respect in the workplace irrespective of gender identity and/or reassignment”.
“At no point was the Army’s social media policy mentioned to me,” Dr Wright told the Telegraph. “But having reviewed that policy, I cannot see how I could be deemed to have breached it.”
“If the official line is now that I breached the social media policy, I await an explanation as to how I have done so. Every attempt I have made to see the complaint in its entirety and respond to it in full has been rebuffed.”
Dr Wright continued: “Having served my country for 14 years, to then be placed under investigation for a Facebook post defending women’s rights was in itself utterly intolerable. I therefore felt no choice but to resign. Now to have it claimed that reports of my account are ‘rubbish and untrue’ by the Defence Secretary sadly only confirms my decision.”
The Defence Secretary should tell the Army to drop the ongoing investigation into Dr Wright, to apologise for his shoddy treatment after 14 years of service and to thank him for risking his life for our country.
Our case team has been supporting Dr Wright since May. In addition to arranging for him to receive legal advice, we will be paying any legal bill.
We stand fully behind Dr Wright, and are ready, willing, and able to explore all available legal remedies as we support our member through this ordeal.