Theresa May accused of hypocrisy over RBS closures

Theresa May has been accused of hypocrisy and double standards for rejecting government action over RBS branch closures after it emerged she personally campaigned to keep post offices in her constituency open.

Theresa May has been accused of double standards, after saying RBS closures were a 'commercial matter' but then lobbying over Maidenhead post offices. Photograph: PA

The Prime Minister has dismissed cross-party calls for the government to
put pressure on RBS over plans to close 62 branches across Scotland, many of them in isolated rural communities where there is no other bank.

At Prime Minister’s Questions last week, May rejected demands from the SNP’s Westminster leader, Ian Blackford, to summon RBS chief executive Ross McEwan to Downing Street, insisting that the closures were a “commercial matter”.

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RBS has said it will review the situation at ten of the branches at the end of the year. Asked at PMQs to back the message that residents should “use them or lose them”, May said: “It is not for the government to tell people what sort of accounts to have or in which branches to open them.”

However, between 2007 and 2016, May repeatedly called for the Post Office to reverse closure plans in her Maidenhead constituency.

Like RBS, the Post Office is run by a limited company owned by the public. The government retains a 72.9 per cent share in the bailed-out bank.

In 2007 and 2008, when six post offices in her constituency were slated for closure, May described it as a “kick in the teeth” and urged residents to take part in a letter-writing campaign to stop the move. One of the six branches was saved.

On her constituency website, she wrote: “A local post office can be a lifeline for many elderly people. Doesn’t the Post Office understand that?”

And in January 2016, when the Post Office announced it was seeking a franchise partner for its Maidenhead branch, potentially putting services at risk, May wrote to the company seeking assurances.

“It is important that the Post Office services people rely on are protected, and that local residents and businesses continue to have full access to the facilities they need,” she wrote on her website. “We must not lose an important local service.”

Blackford told Scotland on Sunday that in light of her earlier comments, it was “clearly double standards” for the Prime Minister to take a “hands-off” approach on RBS. “Theresa May’s inaction over the closure of RBS branches reeks of hypocrisy,” he said.

“She was prepared to condemn a commercial organisation for closing post offices in her own constituency, but now she brushes off our campaign to save very similar operations in Scotland.

“When it comes to Maidenhead – Mrs May’s constituency – she is ‘astounded’ by the ‘suffering’ of customers hit by branch closures, asks what the Post Office ‘has got against Maidenhead?’ and urges people to campaign to keep them open.

“When it comes to keeping bank branches open in Scotland, however, she claims it wouldn’t be appropriate to interfere in a ‘commercial decision’, despite being a majority shareholder of RBS.”