PayPal has been urged to release confiscated funds from British organisations as over 30 Tory MPs and peers accuse the online transfer giant of launching an “orchestrated” and “politically motivated” attack on groups that champion free speech.
The US payments company has come under fire after shutting down the accounts of the Free Speech Union, its founder Toby Young, and his opinion and news website the Daily Sceptic, with no clear explanation last week.
PayPal also froze the accounts of the parent campaign group UsForThem, which fought to keep schools open during the pandemic - but in a sign that the company was backtracking amid the growing fallout, their account was unfrozen on Friday evening.
Dozens of MPs - including Michael Gove and David Davis, both former ministers, Sir Iain Duncan Smith, the ex-Conservative Party leader, and Sir Graham Brady, the 1922 committee chairman - are now calling on ministers to intervene.
In a letter to Jacob Rees-Mogg, the Business Secretary and Andrew Griffith, Financial Secretary to the Treasury, they noted that the “common theme” among organisations and individuals that have had their account closed is that they are all prominent “champions of free speech” who have expressed “critical, non-conforming views on lockdown policies”.
They go on to say: “It is therefore hard to avoid construing PayPal’s actions as an orchestrated, politically motivated move to silence critical or dissenting views on these topics within the UK.”
The letter to ministers came amid a mounting backlash against the US payments giant, which saw several celebrities announce they are deleting their accounts in protest. Sharron Davies, the former Olympic swimmer and BBC presenter, became the latest to exit the platform saying: “I don’t believe tech companies should decide who has a voice.”
For all of you either getting excited or cross depending on if you like free speech & believe in fair sport for those who ARE biologically female. I chose to close my PayPal I was not booted off. I don’t believe tech companies should decide who has a voice! That’s for governments https://t.co/j7QQYjSMw3
— Sharron Davies MBE (@sharrond62) September 24, 2022
She was joined by Matt le Tissier, football pundit and former England player, who said on Twitter: “Good riddance to tin-pot dictators.”
And Jack Dee, the comedian, said he was cancelling his account on the basis that “Big Tech companies that feel they can bully people for questioning mainstream groupthink don’t deserve anyone’s business”.
The letter to ministers, sent on Saturday night, had 42 signatories in total including 21 Tory MPs and 15 Tory peers. as well as four cross-bench peers, a Labour peer and a Labour MP.
They said the Government should demand an explanation from PayPal for its actions and release the donations from the organisations whose funds it has “confiscated unfairly and without justification”.
Molly Kingsley, co-founder of UsForThem, said: “It cannot be the case that in a liberal democracy, private financial service providers are able to withdraw critical services for political ends and at the swish of a pen silence dissenting view. We are calling on the Government and the regulators to urgently introduce appropriate legislative safeguards.”
Toby Young, General Secretary of the Free Speech Union, called for new laws to prevent financial services companies from engaging in “political censorship”.
He said: “The withdrawal of banking services from an individual or an organisation because they aren’t toeing the right political line is something you’d expect to happen in Communist China or North Korea, but not in a supposedly free country.”
On Saturday night, Government sources confirmed that officials intend to contact PayPal and demand an explanation about why certain accounts have been frozen.
They said they are aware that a series of accounts have been suspended and that so far no explanation has been given for the rationale behind this.
A spokesman for PayPal said they do not comment on individual accounts, adding: “PayPal regularly assesses activity against our long-standing acceptable use policy and will discontinue our relationship with account holders who are found to violate our policies.”
After reviewing the UsForThem case, PayPal decided that their campaign did not amount to misinformation and this led to their account being unfrozen.
However, it is understood that the decisions to suspend the Free Speech Union and Daily Sceptic account still stand and there are no immediate plans to reverse this.