Greece PM accused of fuelling Elgin Marbles row in ongoing debate | Politics | News

November 29, 2023
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The Greek prime minister has been accused of using the Elgin Marbles for his own domestic political goals amid a furious diplomatic row.

Rishi Sunak pulled out of talks with Kyriakos Mitsotakis at the last minute after the premier reneged on an agreement not to let the ownership dispute dominate his visit.

The Prime Minister is against returning the friezes to Athens, fearing a “slippery slope” that could lead to other artefacts being removed from British museums.

Conservative MP Tim Loughton, chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on the British Museum, said: “You do not trade away cultural treasures for political expedience and our Prime Minister was right not to allow his Greek counterpart shamelessly to use them for his own domestic political agendas.”

“That would be the worst possible reason for tearing away the sculptures from the home where they have been safely and widely appreciated for over 200 years.”

He also accused Mr Mitsotakis of “grandstanding and trying to make a political issue out of one of the world’s greatest treasures”.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer met the Greek PM on Monday after his aides said he would not stand in the way of a loan deal.

Conservative MP Sir Michael Fabricant said: “The Elgin Marbles are part of the permanent collection of the British Museum and belong here. It is reckless for any British politician, like Starmer, to suggest that this is subject to negotiation. It’s not just the marbles. What else would be repatriated from UK museums?”

Greece has long demanded the return of the historic works, acquired by Lord Elgin in the early 19th century as British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire.

No10 said it had been keen to avoid a repeat of Mr Mitsotakis’s visit to the UK in 2021, when he used the trip as a “public platform” to press for the marbles’ return by claiming the 17 figures “belong in the Acropolis Museum”.

Ahead of the visit, Downing Street confirmed it “sought assurances” that similar pronouncements would not be made. But on Sunday Mr Mitsotakis described the current situation as being akin to the Mona Lisa painting being cut in half.

No10 said Mr Sunak decided it would “not be productive” to go ahead with yesterday’s talks.

He added: “For far too long, constant attempts to relitigate in public the long settled issue of the ownership of the marbles has cast a shadow over an otherwise productive relationship with Greece and that those conversations are best had in private. Those were the assurances that were provided to us in advance of this meeting. Those assurances were not adhered to and you saw the subsequent action taken.”

British Museum chairman George Osborne, an ex-chancellor, is exploring how the marbles could be displayed in Greece, possibly involving a loan deal. But No10 made clear Mr Sunak, who hosted the Cabinet yesterday, sees the museum as the rightful place for them.



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