Rishi Sunak was yesterday blasted as weak for snubbing the Greek Prime Minister in a spat over the Elgin Marbles.
At short notice, Mr Sunak pulled out of No10 talks with Kyriakos Mitsotakis after indications his Greek counterpart would bring up the row over the 2,500-year-old sculptures, which are displayed in the British Museum.
A Labour spokesman said: “To pick a fight with a NATO ally for the sake of a headline shows just how weak Rishi Sunak is.” He added: “The Prime Minister should have been talking about the economy, immigration, the Middle East – that’s what the country would expect from a leader."
The Conservative leader’s snub came after Mr Mitsotakis used an interview ahead of the meeting to push for the return of the Marbles to Greece. They were removed after millennia in the Parthenon by Lord Elgin in the early 19th century, when he was the British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire.
Should the Marbles stay in the UK or return to Greece?
Two of our journalists are divided in their opinion...
Keep Them Here
By Paul Routledge
The Elgin Marbles should stay in the British Museum, where they are free to view for the whole world. If the great sculptures of Phidias are shipped back to Athens, they won’t go back up on the Parthenon, but to another gallery charging at least €10 to see them.
Britain has a special claim to the statues, saved from possible destruction by Lord Elgin. Greece was not even a country then, only part of the Ottoman Empire. Lord Elgin did the world a favour by acquiring the marbles, which he sold to the nation for less than half the £74,240 he paid (£5 million today) on condition they were kept together.
If they are loaned to Athens, I doubt they’d ever return. And it would prompt demands from Egypt for the Rosetta Stone, from Chile for the Easter Island moai and so on until only Grayson Perry’s Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman remains in the British Museum.
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Give Them Back
By Darren Lewis
Maybe the Greek Prime Minister should have framed his request as one to send back some foreign bodies that arrived here on a boat. Rishi Sunak and his cavalcade of xenophobes would have shipped back the Elgin Marbles like a shot.
Mind you, they’d have probably tried to jet them out to Rwanda first. Putting aside his attempt to deflect us away from the Covid Inquiry, Sunak’s refusal to meet with his Greek counterpart, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, over the issue reeked of small man syndrome.
Had Greece stolen the clock face of Big Ben – as a 2014 campaign famously suggested – the anger would have been off the scale. Museums in Sweden, Germany, America and the Vatican have all sent items back to the Acropolis.
Britain return the Marbles. Then send the Benin Bronzes back to Nigeria. Then the Amaravati Stupa Marbles back to India. Then the Maori Heads to New Zealand. And so on.