Climate change protesters disrupted Barclays’ annual shareholder meeting on Tuesday and were forcibly removed during an often fractious event, where the chief executive, Jes Staley, was accused of being “irrevocably tarnished” by his attempt to unmask a whistleblower.
Campaigners from the student group People & Planet said they were behind the protest, which lasted several minutes and brought the meeting at the QEII conference centre in London to a temporary halt.
The group – which called for an end to the bank’s financing of fossil fuel projects – attempted to rush the stage where Staley and the rest of the Barclays board were seated, before being tackled to the floor and carried out by security staff.
“We know that fossil fuels need to stay in the ground to avoid climate chaos and that means no new fossil fuel infrastructure in the UK or anywhere,” said Sam Leech, a student at the University of East Anglia and member of P&P. “We’re here calling on Barclays to ditch fossil fuels in solidarity with communities resisting extraction globally.”
Earlier in the meeting a 22-year old activist, Ocean Hyland, asked the Barclays board to reconsider financing a pipeline carrying oil from the tar sands in Alberta through British Columbia to the coast.
She said that her nation, the Tsleil-Waututh, believed the Kinder Morgan pipeline would cause environmental damage, threatening the surrounding lands, water and food sources with oil spills.
“I urge Barclays to reconsider its involvement in this project, and avoid funding the further destruction of my people and the planet,” she said.
Barclays said it was considering its investment and was working on a review of its approach to investments in oil and pipelines, with the aim of coming up with a new set of rules.
The annual meeting proved a bruising encounter for Staley, who faced shareholders for the first time since UK regulators last month announced their intention to fine him an unspecified sum for a “breach of individual conduct”.
The chief executive is irrevocably tarnished. I suggest you consider his continuation’
The scandal centred on Staley’s attempts to uncover the identity of the author of letters sent to the Barclays board in 2016 raising concerns about the recruitment of Tim Main as head of the bank’s financial institutions group in New York.
“You say you have been in banking over 38 years, you should have known better than to bring shame on our bank,” said Michael Mason-Mahon, a regular attendee and critic at Barclays’ annual meetings.
Another asked simply: “Why has Jes Staley not resigned?”
One investor told John McFarlane, chairman of Barclays: “The chief executive is irrevocably tarnished. I suggest you consider his continuation.”
McFarlane repeatedly defended Staley and reiterated the board’s unanimous support for the chief executive. “I’d be quite interested to know how many people in this room have never made a mistake?” he asked shareholders. “Jes regrets his mistake. We need to take all of this in the round. He does not deserve to resign.”
McFarlane said that more than 95% of shareholders agreed that Staley was still fit to run the bank.
The board escaped a showdown with US-based activist investor Ed Bramson, who did not appear to have attended the annual meeting. Bramson’s investment vehicle, Sherborne, has built a stake of more than 5% in the bank and is advocating a shake-up.
McFarlane said that any speculation about his own future as chairman was premature, adding that he intended to remain in the role for at least another year. “You are not getting rid of me yet,” he told the meeting.
Both Staley and McFarlane insisted the bank had reached a turning point, having dealt with most of its “legacy issues”, putting scandals such as Libor-rigging and PPI mis-selling behind them.
McFarlane said the bank must avoid making any more major “mistakes or missteps”. “We’re doing everything necessary to get the growth and returns to get the higher share price you’re looking for. I genuinely believe the best is yet to come,” he told shareholders.
Staley said shareholders would be rewarded for the bank’s progress with plans for the first programme of share buybacks in 20 years. He would not be drawn on timing. Staley also repeated a pledge to pay a dividend of 6.5p a share for 2018, after the dividend was left unchanged at 3p in 2017.
Staley said cryptocurrencies were a “real challenge” for the bank, and that while it was handling some futures inquiries, it had no plans to open a trading desk.