Dear Mike Buchanan,
Welcome to the FSU’s weekly newsletter, our round-up of the free speech news of the week. As with all our work, this newsletter depends on the support of our members and donors, so if you’re not already a paying member please sign up today or encourage a friend to join and help turn the tide against cancel culture. You can share our newsletters on social media with the buttons at the bottom of this email (although not if you’re reading this on a desktop). If someone has shared this newsletter with you and you’d like to join the FSU, you can find our website here.
Big ‘de-banking’ victory for the FSU!
The FSU 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 reported in the Telegraph, the government will now change the Payment Services Regulations to make it impossible for banks and payment processors to cancel people’s accounts just because they disagree with their perfectly lawful political beliefs!
That’s terrific news – indeed we’re tempted to call it our biggest victory to date. When the FSU was de-banked by PayPal last September, we kicked up an almighty fuss in the public square, and when 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 in Britain of a Chinese-style social credit system, whereby if your political beliefs don’t align with the progressive ‘values’ of banks you lose access to their services.
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.
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.
Specifically, any bank that discriminates against a customer because of their political beliefs could now have their banking licence revoked. Payment service providers will also be told that they must not discriminate against customers just because they’ve exercised their right to lawful free speech.
In terms of oversight and enforcement of these regulatory changes, the Treasury is now preparing to strengthen the Financial Conduct Authority’s ‘Principles for Business’.
These changes to the financial regulations will undoubtedly help, but on their own they won’t be enough. Why? Because 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, we suspect that banks and payment processors will come up with spurious, un-related reasons for closing people’s accounts, just as Coutts did in Nigel Farage’s case (Telegraph).
If you’ve been de-banked, the first thing you should do is submit a Subject Access Request, demanding to see whatever information that company is holding on you. If it shows you’ve been discriminated against, you can then complain to the financial ombudsman and, if necessary, take the bank or payment processor to court. (See the FAQs we’ve just published on what to do if you’ve been de-banked.)
The FSU has already helped several of its members navigate this process, and we’ll be happy to help others who have been affected by the recent rise of politically motivated financial censorship. If you’re a member, you can get in touch with our case team at firstname.lastname@example.org.
It goes without saying that we will continue to campaign on this issue.
In addition to the FAQs we’ve just published, we’re doing some research into how respectful each payment services provider is of its customers’ free speech. The aim is to give all of them a score out of 10, depending on how they react to customers who say something unorthodox but perfectly lawful.
Sibyl Ruth fundraiser – join the fight!
Writer, editor and FSU member Sibyl Ruth hopes to continue her fight for the free speech rights of those in the arts world at the Employment Tribunal in September – and now she needs your support.
You can find out more about the case and pledge your support here.
Last year, Sibyl’s contract with her employer, Cornerstones Literary Consultancy, was effectively terminated after she dared express her gender critical beliefs on Twitter. Now Sibyl is seeking to bring a discrimination claim against Cornerstones.
Sibyl joined GB News’s Andrew Doyle on Free Speech Nation at the weekend, and revealed a little more about what happened behind the scenes at Cornerstones in the lead-up to her contract termination (you can watch a clip of the episode here).
As Sibyl told Andrew, she had been working for Cornerstones as one of their ‘Core Editors’ without issue and receiving good feedback from clients when “really suddenly” the company stopped sending her work. First, management told her a client she had been working for no longer required her services. Then, when she decided to tweak her profile on the company’s website, she realised that she’d been “disappeared” from the editors’ page on the Cornerstones website. Finally, she was told it was “unlikely” that more projects would come her way.
Thanks to a Subject Access Request (SAR) which we advised Sibyl to submit, she discovered that a member of staff at Cornerstones had objected to her tweeting about her gender critical views. Although ‘objected to’ is perhaps not the right phrase, given how the SAR revealed staff members saying things like: “Is Sibyl working on a project? Let’s get rid of her.” It’s the sort of tone you might expect in cases where a staff member had been sticking their hand in the till, but not, as in Sibyl’s case, where the ‘crime’ is simply tweeting about the government’s proposed changes to the Gender Recognition Act, and the importance of women only spaces in healthcare settings, prisons and rape-crisis centres.
Sadly, by the time Sibyl received these details, it was too late – Cornerstones had already stopped all her work, and effectively terminated her.
Sibyl’s case is that Cornerstones discriminated against her based on her lawful gender critical beliefs, as well as her age.
The case of Forstater v CGD Europe does establish that gender critical beliefs are protected under the Equality Act 2010 and are therefore “worthy of respect” in a democratic society. However, the first phase of Sibyl’s case will involve establishing that she’s entitled to Equality Act protection in the first place. That’s because she was employed on a precarious contract with Cornerstones and labelled an ‘independent contractor’ rather than an employee.
Whether contract writers are ‘employees’ is therefore an important question of law. Without such status, workers like Sibyl do not benefit from employment legislation preventing unfair dismissal or the protections of the Equality Act against unlawful discrimination.
That’s why it’s important we support Sibyl as she brings this case, which could be of ground-breaking importance for the arts world and beyond, signalling to de facto employers that they will be held accountable for discriminating against their employees.
Once again, we need your help. Please join the fight and support Sibyl’s crowdfunder here.
The latest episode of the FSU’s weekly podcast is out now!
There’s a fierce battle for free speech taking place in the Republic of Ireland right now, where the proposed Criminal Justice (Incitement to Violence or Hatred or Hate Offences) Bill (‘CJB’) is expected to radically enlarge the definition of ‘hate speech’ to include things it’s currently lawful to express (such as saying transwomen aren’t women). In that context, the hosts of our weekly podcast, Tom and Ben, were delighted to welcome Sarah Hardiman, spokesperson for Free Speech Ireland (FSI), to the show.
The link to download the episode in full – and for free! – is here.
It’s a fantastic – albeit fairly chilling – discussion that touches on several areas that will be familiar to members, such as the practical problems of policing hate speech, the tension between lobby groups and individual citizens, and what appears to be the ubiquitous inadequacy of schools and universities in relaying the vital importance of free expression in a free society.
If you would like to support the FSI in this essential fight, then please do visit their website – which you can find here – and follow the FSI across their social media channels.
Christian Councillor suspended after tweeting “Pride is a sin”
A Tory councillor in Northamptonshire who tweeted “Pride is not a virtue but a sin” has been suspended by the Conservative Party and been cancelled by six other organisations after expressing his religious beliefs on social media (BBC, European Conservative, GB News, Telegraph).
King Lawal is now considering legal action over alleged violations of his rights to freedom of speech and freedom of religion.
The tweets at issue constituted Mr Lawal’s response to images of Pride parades organised by LGBT groups at the end of ‘Pride Month’ celebrations in June. Mr Lawal wrote: “When did Pride become a thing to celebrate. Because of Pride Satan fell as an arch Angel. Pride is not a virtue but a Sin. Those who have Pride should Repent of their sins and return to Jesus Christ. He can save you. #PrideMonth #Pride23 #PrideParade.”
The post included an image with a verse from Isaiah 3 verse 9, which said: “Whatever God calls ‘Sin’ is nothing to be Proud of.” Cllr Lawal said that soon after posting the tweet he was suspended by the local Conservative group, pending an investigation by CCHQ.
Mr Lawal was then forced to resign from his main job in a nursing and care business after receiving an ultimatum by a different local authority because of his tweet.
Next up, an organisation that helps children get access to green spaces removed Cllr Lawal as a trustee, while Weavers Academy, a state secondary school in Wellingborough, Northamptonshire, suspended him as an academy council member.
Capping off this Orwellian un-personing, his local library also decided he could no longer host a planned surgery at the venue.
Speaking for the first time since the backlash, Cllr Lawal said: “It is now almost impossible to say something biblically truthful on sexual ethics in UK society without being cancelled and having your life ruined.
“What I said was biblically sound and a protected expression of the Christian faith,” he continued, adding: “I know what it is like to be in the minority, and I would never discriminate against anyone. I have diligently represented all my constituents; however, I must also be free to express my beliefs without fear.”
In response, the leader of North Northamptonshire Council, Cllr Jason Smithers, said: “North Northamptonshire Conservative Group are an inclusive group. We continue to be committed to reducing inequality within our communities and creating a fair and inclusive environment for everyone. We fully support our LGBTQ+ community, as we support all communities.”
The FSU is in touch with Cllr Lawal, and will help him seek justice.
Coutts’s decision to de-bank Nigel Farage was political, documents show
Documents obtained by Nigel Farage under a Subject Access Request (SAR) revealed that his Coutts accounts were closed after a risk committee decided his friendship with the 45th President of the United States of America, Donald Trump, along with his perfectly lawful views on Brexit, LGBT rights, the government’s Net Zero targets, and many other contentious contemporary issues, were “distasteful” and “do not align with our values”.
As first reported by the Telegraph, a reputational risk committee “exited” him after considering, among other documents, a 25-page report detailing some of the adverse press associated with Farage dating back to 2016. The main themes highlighted were: “racism, xenophobia, Black Lives Matter; Russia, Pro-Putin/Russia Today links; Climate denying/anti Net Zero”.
Mr Farage said he was shocked by the “vitriol” in the “prejudiced and nasty” document, and it’s difficult to disagree with that description (Sky News).
The background briefings show that the bank not only devoted considerable resources to vetting its long-term client, but that it went to great lengths to find reasons to dump him, rather than retain him.
For instance, there are multiple references to “false Brexit claims”, and at one point even a barrel scraping reference to Mr Farage allegedly having been a “fascist” in his schooldays.
On several occasions, “NF” – as the document insists on calling Mr Farage – is also criticised for “courting controversy”. It’s a revealing phrase, and indicative of the extent to which “chilling new official ideologies on diversity, equity, climate and multiculturalism”, as Lord David Frost puts it, have taken hold across Britain’s institutions: those who disagree with, challenge or critique those ideologies are no longer viewed as contributing to important public debate on essentially contested topics, but rather, as unhelpfully “courting controversy”.
At one point, Coutts’ ostensibly formal, technocratic dossier refers to the former MEP for South East England, without scare quotes or any discernible attribution to a specific source, as a “disingenuous grifter”. Elsewhere, the dossier quotes the Independent’s characterisation of his criticism of the Australian government’s decision to deport his friend, the tennis player Novak Djokovic, for refusing to be vaccinated against Covid, as “the spineless, chaotic behaviour of a chancer”.
A Coutts spokesman has since claimed: “We cannot comment on the details given our customer confidentiality obligations.” And yet those obligations don’t seem to hold much weight with some of the firm’s other, loose-tongued employees. One of the curiosities of this story is the attempted misdirection of the media by Coutts insiders in the period following Mr Farage’s announcement that he’d been de-banked, but before his Subject Access Request had been completed.
It was BBC Business Editor Simon Jack who first reported claims that the reason Mr Farage’s accounts had been closed was that he lacked the financial resources to be a customer of the millionaires’ bank. Mr Jack’s story (headlined: “Nigel Farage bank account shut for falling below wealth limit”) cited “people familiar with Coutts’ move” and was subsequently picked up, and the main points gleefully repeated, by various progressive media figures who happen to dislike Mr Farage’s politics.
Thanks to Mr Farage’s SAR, however, we now know that his accounts were closed largely, if not entirely, for political reasons. Across the 40 pages of documents released to Mr Farage, the bank repeatedly refers to the fact that, although “NF” had technically dipped below the financial threshold required by the bank, he “meets the EC [economic contribution] criteria for commercial retention”.
All of which suggests that someone at the bank selectively leaked aspects of Mr Farage’s personal financial profile to the media. That’s not just a serious breach of GDPR – it’s also potentially an issue for the Financial Ombudsmen Service and, beyond that, the Financial Conduct Authority (in particular, Principle Six of the regulator’s principles states that a firm “must pay due regard to the interests of its customers and treat them fairly”).
It has since emerged that Dame Alison Rose, the CEO of NatWest, which owns Coutts bank, sat “laughing and joking” with Simon Jack at a Charity Event the night before the BBC broke its exclusive (Telegraph).
Both the BBC and NatWest declined to comment when the Telegraph asked what Mr Jack and Dame Alison had discussed during the meal. Informal conversations happen all the time, of course, and there is no proof Dame Alison is the source of the leak.
Nevertheless, happening to find himself sitting next to NatWest’s CEO, one imagines that Mr Jack’s curiosity as to all things Coutts would naturally have been piqued.
Perhaps, while they were whooping it up together, Mr Jack found time to ask Dame Alison about her role in overseeing the NatWest banking group’s pivot away from a strict focus on returning dividends to shareholders, and towards saving the planet and putting diversity at the heart of the business, and whether that might not have impacted the bank’s ability to tolerate the cognitive diversity exhibited by its customer base (Telegraph).
Or perhaps he queried whether the Coutts executive – and avowed Remainer – who handled the former Brexit Party leader’s bank accounts also sat on the committee that ultimately took the decision to “exit” him from the bank (Telegraph).
Maybe he also pushed her for her view as to whether, with Coutts having signed up to a corporate diversity scheme under her leadership that pledges to tackle “racism, transphobia, classism, sexism, and xenophobia” as well as “gender inequity” and, just for good measure, “caste [and] colonisation” too, the bank might not be in danger of using its considerable powers to bully customers into accepting certain values (Telegraph).
Then again, perhaps he didn’t have time for any of that after he’d been told by a Coutts’ insider that Mr Farage was de-banked because he’s too poor to be one of its customers.