Cyprus may backtrack over the deal - but the damage has been done

Savers will be thoroughly spooked.

It's a shock to everyone - Cyprus stumbles, and Europe cuts the cord.

The Cyprus deal could be in the process of renegotiation, according to Reuters, but here it is as it stands: Cyprus has imposed a tax on all depositors down to the smallest - with a levy of 6.75 per cent on savings up to €100,000, and 9.9 per cent for those over-€100k. This may be legal, but it goes violently against the spirit of the new banking system everyone has been striving for since the 2008 financial crisis - where those with no responsibility are protected from the losses of those who take risks. These ideas were based on solid reason - if a gamble doesn't pay off, the gambler should pay - a principle that should result in banks controlling their own risks. To fly in the face of this seems like a backward step.

For Cypriot savers, it's too late for action  - you can withdraw as much money as you like, but charges are now fixed. This will be particularly galling for those with deposits up to €100,000 which were guaranteed under EU law, should the bank go under. The fact that the new deal is presented as a tax on these savings will be seen as a sneaky manipulation of a loophole in the law.

Another slap in the face to ordinary investors comes from President Nicos Anastasiades - who claimed yesterday that there was no alternative to hitting small depositors. This is not true - as there could simply be larger cuts over the €100,000 threshold. The 6.75 per cent:9.9 per cent ratio seems terrifyingly arbitrary.

This was the choice European leaders had over Cyprus: sovereign restructuring or losses for bank creditors. The second course was chosen - but it has been done in the worst possible way. They will not restructure the banks immediately, nor will it bail in unsecured senior bondholders. They will however damage the savings of ordinary people in a way that is not only immoral but also unwise - how keen will people be to deposit money in the bank now?

And there is the other problem. While the actual tax hit to ordinary people is much smaller than other hits resulting from bank bailouts, (British savers have been relieved of more than £43bn since the beginning of the financial crisis, which was used to prop up struggling financial institutions) it is the raid-like way this has been managed that is so psychologically damaging to Cypriot depositors. Even if, as Reuters suggests, the deal is changed so that small depositors (under €100,000) are not hit, the risk that come Tuesday a mob will descend on the banks and withdraw every last euro from their accounts is considerable.

The other undo-able damage of course will be political - the credibility of policymakers in the IMF and eurozone is getting ever closer to zero.

Photograph: Getty Images

Martha Gill writes the weekly Irrational Animals column. You can follow her on Twitter here: @Martha_Gill.

Photo: Getty
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The Home Office made Theresa May. But it could still destroy her

Even politicians who leave the Home Office a success may find themselves dogged by it. 

Good morning. When Theresa May left the Home Office for the last time, she told civil servants that there would always be a little bit of the Home Office inside her.

She meant in terms of its enduring effect on her, but today is a reminder of its enduring ability to do damage on her reputation in the present day.

The case of Jamal al-Harith, released from Guantanamo Bay under David Blunkett but handed a £1m compensation payout under Theresa May, who last week died in a suicide bomb attack on Iraqi forces in Mosul, where he was fighting on behalf of Isis. 

For all Blunkett left in the wake of a scandal, his handling of the department was seen to be effective and his reputation was enhanced, rather than diminished, by his tenure. May's reputation as a "safe pair of hands" in the country, as "one of us" on immigration as far as the Conservative right is concerned and her credibility as not just another headbanger on stop and search all come from her long tenure at the Home Office. 

The event was the cue for the Mail to engage in its preferred sport of Blair-bashing. It’s all his fault for the payout – which in addition to buying al-Harith a house may also have fattened the pockets of IS – and the release. Not so fast, replied Blair in a punchy statement: didn’t you campaign for him to be released, and wasn’t the payout approved by your old pal Theresa May? (I paraphrase slightly.)

That resulted in a difficult Q&A for Downing Street’s spokesman yesterday, which HuffPo’s Paul Waugh has posted in full here. As it was May’s old department which has the job of keeping tabs on domestic terror threats the row rebounds onto her. 

Blair is right to say that every government has to “balance proper concern for civil liberties with desire to protect our security”. And it would be an act of spectacular revisionism to declare that Blair’s government was overly concerned with civil liberty rather than internal security.

Whether al-Harith should never have been freed or, as his family believe, was picked up by mistake before being radicalised in prison is an open question. Certainly the journey from wrongly-incarcerated fellow traveller to hardened terrorist is one that we’ve seen before in Northern Ireland and may have occurred here.

Regardless, the presumption of innocence is an important one but it means that occasionally, that means that someone goes on to commit crimes again. (The case of Ian Stewart, convicted of murdering the author Helen Bailey yesterday, and who may have murdered his first wife Diane Stewart as well, is another example of this.)

Nonetheless, May won’t have got that right every time. Her tenure at the Home Office, so crucial to her reputation as a “safe pair of hands”, may yet be weaponised by a clever rival, whether from inside or outside the Conservative Party. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.