The leader of Greece has expressed disapproval of the British Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, for canceling scheduled discussions where he intended to bring up the topic of the Parthenon marbles. This has caused a resurgence of disagreements over the ancient artifacts.
Sunak’s decision was deemed “inappropriate and lacking in respect” by his assistants, while Kyriakos Mitsotakis, currently in London, expressed frustration over the unexpected cancellation of the planned meeting at Downing Street.
The leader of the centre-right party released a statement through his Maximou office expressing frustration about the British prime minister’s last-minute cancellation of their scheduled meeting, as tensions in the diplomatic relationship continued to rise.
“Greece and Britain have a long history of strong friendship, and our bilateral relationship covers a wide range of areas. The stance of Greece regarding the Parthenon sculptures is widely recognized.”
I was looking forward to talking about them with my British counterpart, along with other global issues such as Gaza, Ukraine, the environmental crisis, and migration.
The statement concluded with Mitsotakis criticizing Sunak for not adequately addressing the issue of the fate of ancient artifacts, which has resulted in the longest standing cultural dispute in the Western world. “Those who are confident in the validity and fairness of their beliefs are not afraid to consider opposing viewpoints,” the statement stated.
The Prime Minister of Greece was scheduled to meet with officials at Downing Street on Tuesday afternoon, the final day of his trip to the United Kingdom. However, during a discussion with Labour party leader Keir Starmer on Monday evening, it was announced that Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak had decided to cancel the meeting.
According to officials accompanying the Greek Prime Minister, it is undeniable that Mitsotakis’s remarks about the ancient sculptures in a BBC interview had a significant impact, even though British government sources originally attributed it to a scheduling conflict.
While speaking with Laura Kuenssberg on Sunday, the Greek leader restated his country’s ongoing plea to reunite the Parthenon treasures with the other sculptures originally placed beneath the temple. He compared the division of these artworks between London and Athens to “splitting the Mona Lisa in two.”
Sunak appeared to be aggravated by the comments, leading him to believe that there was no longer a purpose in continuing the discussions.
People within Athens admitted that the Greek leader’s choice to meet with Starmer before Sunak may have played a part in the rejection from Downing Street.
However, they noted that the Greeks were particularly irritated by the sudden cancellation of the Downing Street talks, which they deemed to be clumsily handled. Interestingly, even though Mitsotakis’ closest advisors expressed a preference for Starmer over Sunak in private, this is ironic for a party that shares similar political views with the Tories.
A representative for the No 10 office stated: “The relationship between the UK and Greece holds great significance. We collaborate in various areas such as NATO and addressing issues like illegal immigration, as well as working together to find solutions for the Middle East crisis and the conflict in Ukraine.”
A high-ranking member of the Conservative party, using the name “Elgin marbles” to refer to the sculptures, which were named after Lord Elgin, a Scottish diplomat who controversially asked for them to be taken from the Acropolis in the early 19th century, stated: “Due to recent discussions about the Elgin marbles, it was no longer feasible for this meeting to take place.”
“Our position 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.”
Previously, Sunak had stated that he would never back any changes to the 1963 legislation that prohibits the British Museum from giving up its collection.
Mitsotakis, whose New Democracy party won a second term in office in July, has made return of the treasures to the country where they were carved 2,500 years ago a priority of his next four years in power.
On Monday evening, it became evident that there were tensions between Greece and England that had not been seen in many years. Government sources acknowledged that it was uncertain how either party would handle the consequences.
A representative from the Labour party stated: “In the event that the prime minister is unable to meet with a European ally who holds significant economic connections with Britain, this serves as evidence of his inability to provide the necessary economic guidance that our country needs. The Labour party led by Keir Starmer is prepared to take action.”
Before meeting with Mitsotakis on Monday, Starmer had indicated that he was willing to consider a loan agreement that would allow a substantial number of sculptures to be returned in exchange for a rotating display of Greek antiquities that have not been previously shown at the British Museum.