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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Ignored by the media, the Liberal Democrats are experiencing a revival

The crushed Liberals are doing particularly well in areas that voted Conservative in 2015 - and Remain in 2016. 

The Liberal Democrats had another good night last night, making big gains in by-elections. They won Adeyfield West, a seat they have never held in Dacorum, with a massive swing. They were up by close to the 20 points in the Derby seat of Allestree, beating Labour into second place. And they won a seat in the Cotswolds, which borders the vacant seat of Witney.

It’s worth noting that they also went backwards in a safe Labour ward in Blackpool and a safe Conservative seat in Northamptonshire.  But the overall pattern is clear, and it’s not merely confined to last night: the Liberal Democrats are enjoying a mini-revival, particularly in the south-east.

Of course, it doesn’t appear to be making itself felt in the Liberal Democrats’ poll share. “After Corbyn's election,” my colleague George tweeted recently, “Some predicted Lib Dems would rise like Lazarus. But poll ratings still stuck at 8 per cent.” Prior to the local elections, I was pessimistic that the so-called Liberal Democrat fightback could make itself felt at a national contest, when the party would have to fight on multiple fronts.

But the local elections – the first time since 1968 when every part of the mainland United Kingdom has had a vote on outside of a general election – proved that completely wrong. They  picked up 30 seats across England, though they had something of a nightmare in Stockport, and were reduced to just one seat in the Welsh Assembly. Their woes continued in Scotland, however, where they slipped to fifth place. They were even back to the third place had those votes been replicated on a national scale.

Polling has always been somewhat unkind to the Liberal Democrats outside of election campaigns, as the party has a low profile, particularly now it has just eight MPs. What appears to be happening at local by-elections and my expectation may be repeated at a general election is that when voters are presented with the option of a Liberal Democrat at the ballot box they find the idea surprisingly appealing.

Added to that, the Liberal Democrats’ happiest hunting grounds are clearly affluent, Conservative-leaning areas that voted for Remain in the referendum. All of which makes their hopes of a good second place in Witney – and a good night in the 2017 county councils – look rather less farfetched than you might expect. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. He usually writes about politics.