Tony Blair wanted to give Elgin Marbles to Greece in ‘bargaining chip’ | Politics | News

December 29, 2023
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Tony Blair’s Government explored the idea of lending the disputed treasures back to their country of origin as part of a deal to land the games.

Mr Blair’s senior adviser Sarah Hunter told him the marbles could be a “bargaining chip” in winning allies for the International Olympic Committee votes.

The Premier wanted to appoint Lord David Owen, a former Labour Foreign Secretary, to oversee the diplomatic mission with the Athens Government.

Secret files from the Blair years reveal the loan plan was raised in autumn 2002 2003 after the New Labour chief met his Greek counterpart Costas Simitis.

Now declassified and available for public scrutiny at the National Archives, Kew, they include a memo outlining the plan.

The marbles taken by Lord Elgin in 1801 were a “unique monument”, consisting of more than 100 classical sculpted figures covering half the original 524ft doric frieze.

Ahead of the 2004 Athens Olympics, Greece planned a “100 billion Euro purpose-built museum” next to the Acropolis, to put the “reunified pieces as close to their real context as is possible.”

It continues: “Our proposal for the return constitutes proposal for a joint innovation in cultural policy from which both Britain and Greece benefits.”

“It is proposed that the restitution of the Marbles be carried out in the form of a long-term loan from the British Museum to the New Acropolis Museum, bypassing the issue of ownership of the Marbles.”

“Greece would undertake to provide new and changing important temporary exhibitions of Greek antiquities in the British Museum, including exhibits never seen outside Greece and in some cases, not yet exhibited within Greece.”

But Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell headed off the plan, saying they should leave discussion about sending the Marbles back to the British Museum trustees.

Ms Hunter raised the issue again the following year, when Labour were planning the ultimately-successful bid for the 2012 Olympics.

She tells Mr Blair: “The Greek campaign to have the Elgin Marbles back is entering a more energetic phase, driven by the 2004 Athens Olympics and the Presidency.”

“The Marbles could be a powerful bargaining chip in IOC vote building for a 2012 Olympic bid.”

“The publicity attached to this move could secure the Greek nomination and help garner a wide range of other IOC votes.”

She warns though: “We would have to guard against other nations asking for reciprocal acts.”

Ms Hunter also notes that the British Museum trustees were suspicious about the Greek’s motives.

“The Trustees and the Director remain firmly of the view that, once the Marbles are back on Greek soil, the Government will pay any price to retain them there, leaving the BM with a hole at the centre of their collection.”

“The BM – and the wider Museums and Galleries community – fear this will set a precedence that might result in more, equally significant losses in the future.”

The Marbles were never offered up to the Greeks but London won the secret vote for the 2012 Olympics.



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