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Former Barclays chief executive John Varley leaves Westminster Magistrates' Court. - Credit:Dominic Lipinski/PA Archive/PA Images

If Barclays bankers aren’t “too big to jail”, what about the rest?

Today, the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) announced it has charged Barclays Bank with “unlawful financial assistance”. The charges relate to a loan made to Qatar, worth $3 billion, which the SFO allege was used to buy shares in Barclays. The loan was part of a wider deal to finance the bank and avoid a taxpayer bailout. The SFO charged Barclays PLC with the same offence last year, and four executives – including former chief executive John Varley – are being prosecuted for their roles in the deal.

Staggeringly, the Barclays quartet are the first (and, as yet, the only) UK bankers to face criminal charges relating to conduct during the financial crash.

Let’s just remind ourselves what happened: reckless lending and deliberately opaque financial instruments led to financial meltdown, triggering the worst economic disaster since the Great Depression. The “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil” mantra of the banks and their auditors led to taxpayers bailing out the very people whose negligent behaviour caused the crisis. And while ordinary people lost their homes, their jobs, their security, and are still, a decade on, worse-off than before the crash, those responsible appear to have got of scot free – or worse, been given eye-wateringly large golden parachutes to ease them into luxurious early retirement.

“Too big to fail”, it seems, extends to “too big to jail”. YouGov polling for UnHerd last Summer found that just 5% of Britons and 12% of Americans think those responsible for the crash have been appropriately punished. Next year, those Barclay’s executives will stand trial and be forced to defend their behaviour – are they really the only ones who should have to do so?


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