As ludicrous as it sounds, Nigel Farage may turn out to be an unlikely – and probably unwilling – hero to de-banked sex workers.
Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock recently, then you will be aware of the current kerfuffle involving Nigel Farage and his vanishing bank account. The former UKIP leader and full-time gobshite apparently went to his bank to withdraw some of the money sent to him by the sort of people who sit outside pubs on St George’s Day wearing England flag T-shirts and red faces, only to find that Coutts – the sort of bank only available to people with larger-than-usual disposable income – had closed his account. Never a man shy of claiming victimhood at the hands of the establishment (of which he is very much a part, we might note), Farage and his buddies at GB News have cried foul long and hard, as has the Free Speech Union. The Prime Minister stepped up to say that the closure was unacceptable and the press have been all over the story, with even those who would normally have no sympathy for him expressing concern.
Like many people, my immediate reaction to this story was to chortle loudly. It’s always fun to see a swaggering egotist brought down to Earth. But on further consideration, I realised that on this particular point, I would have to put myself in the uncomfortable position of agreeing with Farage; furthermore, I would have to support his campaign to make ‘de-banking’ illegal, however self-serving it might be. I wasn’t the only one. Those on the Left who find Farage objectionable for his part in the Brexit fiasco had the smirks wiped from their faces a week or so later when Gina Miller – known for her legal cases against Brexit and Boris Johnson’s prorogation of Parliament and a figure just as divisive and attention-hungry as Farage, some might argue – had her True and Fair political party’s bank account closed. Suddenly, this was an issue that potentially affected everyone. Things became even more heated when Coutts’ initial claims that Farage was de-banked because he didn’t have enough money rather than for political reasons were revealed to be a lie.
There’s an awkward conundrum at work here. Clearly, leaving someone without access to a bank account because of their views – legally-held views, we might note, no matter unpleasant they might be – is pretty outrageous. It effectively prevents them from being paid for their work and, increasingly, from being able to spend money. As we move increasingly towards a cashless society, cutting people off from banks is to make them a non-person. Banks are essential utilities. On the other hand, they are also private businesses and so they are free to tell people who they find objectionable – people who they think may be a liability to their reputation and so to their profits – that they should take their business elsewhere. Some banks even make a big deal about their ethical status – and while we all know that such posturing is mostly bullshit from organisations that will hang people out to dry should their incomes dry up, it does mean that they will be increasingly cautious about who they deal with.
So what is the answer? Well, Farage has already capitalised on the situation by setting up a new website that will help people find out why they have been denied bank accounts – we should note that thousands of people are turned down by banks with no explanation each year. Significantly, Farage and his new site won’t actually be helping people challenge those decisions, but I guess knowing the reason is a start. And perhaps this site can grow and become a space where appeals can be heard and governments lobbied.
Some people who already know why they have been turned down or else seen existing accounts closed are sex workers. They have been suffering with accounts being refused, frozen (which means the bank effectively steals your money) and closed, facilities like overdrafts and loans being refused, business accounts turned down and other forms of discrimination for years. Banks like HSBC have been very open about this discrimination, saying that they won’t allow OnlyFans performers to open accounts and that “we don’t have an appetite for the adult industry”. Adult performers and sex industry businesses, from strip clubs to swingers clubs – legal businesses and employees all – have become so used to discrimination from banks and other financial services that it has become something of an occupational hazard in guessing just how long they will last before their bank figures out what they really do and shuts down their account.
Banks often use the same old excuses to explain this behaviour, if they felt the need to explain it at all – Santander claimed it was to “protect some of the most vulnerable citizens from risk of abuse, including human trafficking”, though these protections don’t seem to apply for other industries where there is a risk of abuse, from the music business to sport to manufacturing – industries where there is far more solid evidence of such activity than there is in the sex industry (and let’s not even get into religious organisations). And this hardly explains why swingers and fetish clubs, solo camgirls and dominatrixes are cut off from banking. As with many a restriction, it seems that the hysterical nonsense of the anti-sex campaigners has overridden actual evidence and that banks are using these fears as an excuse to cover old-fashioned moralising.
You will be unsurprised to hear that these cases have not, by and large, made the press – and certainly haven’t caused any level of outrage. The Free Speech Coalition has yet to tweet about how outrageous it is that sex workers and sex clubs have had their bank accounts closed because of their legal businesses. GB News has been silent on the issue. The Prime Minister has yet to express his outrage. Rather, the people outraged over Farage’s treatment have often been those who support the ostracisation of the sex industry and efforts, legal or otherwise, to close it down – people who were probably only too happy to see banks exercising their moral judgement against individuals that they didn’t approve of. Perhaps now, these people – people like Farage himself, you suspect – are seeing that the policies that are used to close down the activities of people that you disapprove of can easily be turned against you – as, hopefully, are those who initially sniggered at Farage’s difficulties. No one is exempt from the arbitrary moralising of banks and we should all consider ourselves to be on the same side here.
Perhaps we need a new law – as is being discussed – to ensure that banks cannot turn down customers or close accounts on a moral whim. Certainly, such action should be a last resort, an exceptional act that comes with very specific reasoning (such as criminal activity, money laundering or such). Maybe we need a new publicly-owned bank that allows access to accounts for those who have been rejected elsewhere. Whatever the result, one thing seems clear – Nigel Farage has, somehow or other, managed to become a champion of those who have been discriminated against – an ironic position for a man who built a career on xenophobia. All of this may have been accidental and his public reaction to it opportunist publicity seeking – but if the lives of sex workers – and everyone else who has struggled with random and unexplained rejections by banks – are eventually made a little easier as a result of his bank’s actions and his response, then so be it.
Like what we do? Support us and help us do more!