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The Independent UK
The Independent UK
Maryam Zakir-Hussain

Elgin Marbles row deepens as Greece denies promising not to raise issue on UK visit

PA Wire

The diplomatic row over the Elgin Marbles deepened tonight after Greece denied promising not to publicly discuss the ancient sculptures on a visit to the UK - despite Rishi Sunak claiming that assurance had been made and broken.

The Greek government suggested there were “domestic reasons” behind Britain’s 11th-hour cancellation of Tuesday’s meeting, adding that Rishi Sunak is “quite behind in the polls”.

But Downing Street denied the claim and said the prime minister scrapped talks after Greek PM Kyriakos Mitsotakis rowed back on “reassurances” that he would avoid using his visit to the UK as a “public platform” to demand the return of the Elgin Marbles to Athens.

The prime minister’s official spokesman said Mr Sunak had become concerned that any bilateral conversation with Mr Mitsotakis would be “dominated” by the issue of the ancient artefacts, which are also known as the Parthenon Sculptures, following comments made by the Greek leader in an interview on Sunday.

Greek labour minister, Adonis Georgiades, told Sky News “this kind of agreement cannot ever happen with any Greek prime minister - and certainly with [current prime minister] Kyriakos Mitsotakis”.

The diplomatic spat comes after Mr Mitsotakis used an interview ahead of the anticipated talks to push for the return of the Elgin Marbles, saying the current situation was like the Mona Lisa painting being cut in half.

Rishi Sunak decided to cancel his meeting with the Greek prime minister after he spoke out about the Elgin Marbles
— (PA)
Visitors look at the Elgin marbles, also known as the Parthenon marbles, at the British Museum
— (EPA)

Asked whether the diplomatic spat with Greece was politically motivated, Mr Sunak’s spokesman said: “No. I’ve spoken at length about the reasons for the meeting not going ahead. Those are the reasons, there is nothing more to it.”

Athens has long demanded the return of the historic works, also known as 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.

Prime minister of Greece Kyriakos Mitsotakis had spoken about his want for the ‘reunification’ of the Elgin Marbles
— (PA Media)

A source on the Greek side said he and his team had been left “baffled, surprised and not a little bit annoyed” at an apparent sudden cancellation, especially when preventing migrant sea crossings - one of Mr Sunak’s top five priorities - was high on the agenda.

Mr Mitsotakis, in a statement published on X, formerly Twitter, spoke of his “dismay” that the meeting had been cancelled “just hours before it was due to take place”.

British Museum chairman George Osborne, a former Tory 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 set would be sent to Athens.

But Downing Street made clear that Mr Sunak continues to see the museum as the rightful place for them and that a loan cannot take place without the Greeks accepting the museum as the legal owner.

Additional reporting by Press Association

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