Furious Greek PM slams Rishi Sunak for cancelling talks over his demands for return of Elgin Marbles – as Athens is accused of breaking deal to stay quiet during visit to UK
The UK and Greece are embroiled in a major diplomatic spat today after Rishi Sunak snubbed a meeting with his counterpart amid a flare-up over the Elgin Marbles.
No10 abruptly dropped planned talks with Kyriakos Mitsotakis last night after he had ramped up public demands for the return of the ancient artefacts.
A senior Tory source insisted there was ‘no point’ in the meeting going ahead if the Greek PM was merely going to grandstand on the issue.
They said Mr Sunak was clear that the priceless sculptures belong in the British Museum, with Athens said to have reneged on an agreement to keep the dispute quiet during the visit to Britain.
In an unusual open rebuke, Mr Mitsotakis said he was ‘annoyed’ the discussions had been cancelled ‘hours’ before they were due to take place.
He had referred to the bilateral being booked in a BBC interview on Sunday, when he also compared the situation with the marbles to the Mona Lisa being ‘cut in half’.
Rishi Sunak (left) has snubbed talks with the Greek prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis (right) over his demand for the return of the Elgin Marbles
Athens has long demanded the return of the Parthenon Sculptures, which were removed from Greece by Lord Elgin in the early 19th century, when he was the British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire
Athens has long demanded the return of the Parthenon Sculptures, which were removed from Greece by Lord Elgin in the early 19th century, when he was the British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire.
Mr Mitsotakis said on Sunday he planned to raise the issue during meetings with Mr Sunak and Sir Keir during his visit to London.
He told the BBC that he would ‘meet both Keir Starmer and of course the Prime Minister’ to discuss the return of sculptures which he said were ‘essentially stolen’.
Mr Mitsotakis said British possession of the Marbles was a form of cultural vandalism akin to ‘cutting the Mona Lisa in half’.
Downing Street responded: ‘Obviously that’s not something we would agree with.
‘These were legally acquired at the time, they’re legally owned by the trustees of the museum. We support that position and there’s no plan to change the law which governs it.’
The PM’s spokesman raised eyebrows yesterday by refusing to confirm that the talks would happen.
And last night it was confirmed that they were off. ‘There’s no point the PM having the meeting if this is what it is about,’ a Tory source said.
A Government source said Mr Mitsotakis was offered a meeting with deputy PM Oliver Dowden instead – but he declined.
Mr Mitsotakis said in a statement: ‘I express my annoyance that the British Prime Minister cancelled our planned meeting just hours before it was due to take place.’
‘Greece’s positions on the issue of the Parthenon Sculptures are well known. I had hoped to have the opportunity to discuss them with my British counterpart. Anyone who believes in the rightness and justice of his positions is never afraid of confronting arguments,’ he said.
However, the Greek PM did discuss the issue with Sir Keir last night.
A Labour source insisted the issue was not the ‘focal point’ of the meeting, adding: ‘They talked about the importance of close cooperation in relation to wider European security, migration and climate action and the important cultural links between both countries.’
‘Our position on this is clear – the Elgin Marbles are part of the permanent collection of the British Museum and belong here. It is reckless for any British politician to suggest that this is subject to negotiation.’
The Greek PM did discuss the issue with Sir Keir last night. A Labour source insisted the issue was not the ‘focal point’ of the meeting
British Museum chairman George Osborne, the former chancellor, has previously said he is exploring ways for the Elgin Marbles to be displayed in Greece, with speculation that this could involve a loan deal in which part of the sculptures would be sent to Athens.
In a round of interviews this morning, Transport Secretary Mark Harper said: ‘The Deputy Prime Minister offered to meet the Greek prime minister today and it proved not possible to make that happen.
‘That’s a matter of regret. That offer was made.
‘But the Government set out its position about the Elgin Marbles very clearly, which is they should stay as part of the permanent collection of the British Museum.’
Asked on BBC Breakfast whether it amounted to a snub by Mr Sunak, Mr Harper said: ‘I’ve set out the position. I can keep repeating it.’
Labour sources said that Sir Keir, whose Holborn and St Pancras constituency is home to the British Museum, would not ‘stand in the way’ of a loan deal.
A Labour spokesperson said: ‘Strong cultural and historical partnerships between countries are important to ensure the British Museum, and other UK cultural institutions, can maintain their world leading status.
‘The next Labour Government will hear the case from the British Museum and its chair on any proposed changes to the Heritage Act as it stands. We’ve no current plans to change it.’
Source: Read Full Article