Greek citizens have overwhelmingly voted ‘no’ in a snap referendum on whether to relent to fresh eurozone pressure that would impose further cuts in public spending on the beleaguered nation. Despite warnings from across Europe that a 'no’ vote would mean the end of Greece’s participation in the single currency, citizens turned out in solid numbers on Sunday to deliver a “non serviam” to the creditors and their demands for more austerity in exchange for rescue loans.
On Monday, British Prime Minister David Cameron is scheduled to meet key advisers to assess the impact of the referendum result. On Sunday, British Chancellor George Osborne said that Britain would not be "immune" from the repercussions of a 'no' vote. Speaking on BBC1, Osborne said: "Whatever Greece decides, Britain is prepared. We have the plans in place for whatever the outcome is. I don't think anyone should be in any doubt - the Greek situation has an impact on the European economy which has an impact on us. We cannot be immune from these developments."
Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, who was gambling the future of his 5-month-old left-wing government on the poll, insisted that a 'no' vote would strengthen his hand to negotiate a better deal with creditors, while a 'yes' result would mean capitulating to their harsh demands. However, Greek banks are running short of funds, which could trigger a full financial collapse and force Greece out of the single currency and maybe even out of the European Union.
Earlier, the country’s Interior Ministry said that that government-backed 'no' was set to win by 61 percent. Thousands of Greeks assembled in Syntagma Square, Athens, to celebrate the victory for the 'no' campaign. Speaking to Reuters, Nikos Tarasis, a 23-year-old student, said: "This is an imprint of the will of the Greek people and now it's up to Europeans to show if they respect our opinion and want to help."
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In response to the result, Belgium's finance minister said the referendum will complicate matters. Johan Van Overtveldt insisted, however, that the door remains open to resume talks with the Greek government "literally, within hours." He told VRT network on Sunday that the eurogroup of 19 finance ministers could again discuss measures "that can put the Greek economy back on track and gives the Greeks a perspective for the future."
Vangelis Meimarkis, a senior members of the opposition in Greece, said on Sunday the 'no' vote win will increase pressure on the government to reach a deal with creditors. He added: "If we don't have an agreement within 48 hours as [the prime minister] promised, then we are being led to a tragedy." On Sunday evening, Sigmar Gabriel, the minister for economic affairs and vice chancellor of Germany, said, "Tsipras [has] tore down the last bridge for negotiations" and that the Greek PM was "leading his people into hopelessness."
Meanwhile, a close aide to the Greek prime minister said the 'no' vote should not be regarded as an intention by the government to leave the euro. "It is wrong to link a 'no' result to an exit from the eurozone," said Minister of State Nikos Pappas, adding: "If a 'no' prevails that will help us get a better agreement." Those sentiments were echoed by Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis, who said on Sunday: "The Greek people said 'no more' to five years of austerity." In Britain, Nigel Farage, leader of the anti-EU UK Independence Party, welcomed the referendum result, saying the "EU project" was now dead. "It's fantastic to see the courage of the Greek people in the face of political and economic bullying from Brussels," he said.
Last weekend, Tsipras halted negotiations with creditors to hold the vote and seek a popular rejection of austerity measures. On Sunday, he posed for the cameras while placing his 'no' vote, saying "no one can ignore the will of the people to take their lives in their hands."