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Bank of England reveals secret plan for euro break-up

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Former Bank of England governor Mervyn King

Former Bank of England governor Mervyn King

Bloomberg

Former Bank of England governor Mervyn King

The Bank of England revealed that it made a secret recommendation to Britain's finance ministry in September 2011 to prepare for the consequences of a euro zone break-up.

The central bank's Financial Policy Committee (FPC) - which at the time was chaired by former governor Mervyn King - said the finance ministry should plan for how it would rescue Britain's banks if they were hit by a country leaving the euro zone.

At the time, borrowing costs for countries such as Ireland, Greece, Portugal and Spain were soaring and many economists had doubts about whether the currency bloc could hold together.

"The committee was concerned that conditions in Europe could deteriorate rapidly, with widespread dislocation spreading across interconnected global financial markets," the BoE said.

"Against that backdrop, it thought that HM Treasury should prepare for a full range of eventualities; in some especially severe scenarios, far-reaching solutions might be required."

Some FPC members thought these measures should extend to not paying private-sector holders of bank debt the full amount owed as part of a restructuring process.

The BoE judged at the time that publishing its recommendation was not in the public interest "given the risk of further undermining already fragile market sentiment", it said.

The possibility of more bank bailouts would also have been highly politically sensitive, given public upset at the £65bn of public money ploughed into Ulster Bank owner Royal Bank of Scotland and Lloyds Banking Group during the 2008 financial crisis.

The central bank said it had regularly reviewed over the past two-and-a-half years whether it could publish its recommendation, but only felt comfortable doing so now that new legislation to wind up banks in Europe is coming into force.

Other details revealed by the BoE show that in November 2011, Britain's finance ministry was preparing contingency plans to bail out Britain's banks, and emergency legislation to deal with the collapse of a so-called central counterparty, a firm which guarantees trades between financial institutions.

In June 2012 the BoE considered revealing that contingency planning had been done, but concluded that this might do more harm than good if the public feared the plans were inadequate.

Here in Ireland, the Central Bank has never revealed details of any plans for a break-up but the Sunday 
Independent reported the Economic Management Committee had made some plans.

Fears of a euro zone break-up eased substantially last year after European Central Bank president Mario Draghi said he would do whatever it took to save the euro.

The FPC considered publishing the BoE's recommendation again in November 2012, September 2013, December 2013 and March 2014, but each time it deemed this against the public interest.

Irish Independent