U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak cancelled his meeting with visiting Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis on Monday, over the latter’s comments on ancient sculptures housed in the British Museum. Mr Mitsotakis was instead offered a meeting with the U.K.’s Deputy Prime Minister, which he declined.
The Parthenon Sculptures or Elgin Marbles, which date back to the 5th Century BCE, were bought by the British Museum in 1816 from Thomas Bruce (“Lord Elgin“) who was, at the time, the British Ambassador to the former Ottoman Empire. A part of the sculpture is still in Athens, housed in the Acropolis Museum. Critics have claimed that Lord Elgin stole the sculptures. The British Museum refutes this claim on its website, saying his acquisition was “entirely legal”.
Mr Mitsotakis, who heads Greece’s centre-right New Democracy party, was re-elected in June this year and had said he would see a return of the marbles to their original home if re-elected.
Speaking to the BBC while in London, Mr Mitsotakis had compared the situation to cutting the Mona Lisa in half and splitting it between the Musée du Louvre Paris (where it is currently housed) and the British Museum.
Mr Mitsotakis said he had hoped to discuss not just the sculptures, but also Gaza, Ukraine, climate change and migration with Mr Sunak.
“I express my annoyance at the fact that the British Prime Minister canceled our scheduled meeting a few hours before it was due to take place,” Mr Mitsotakis said in a statement, in which he said Greece’s position on the sculptures was well known.
“Anyone who believes his stance is right and just is never afraid of opposing arguments,” he said.
Mr Mitsotakis, however, did meet with the leader of the opposition, the Labour Party’s Keir Starmer, prior to his scheduled meeting with Mr Sunak.
The Labour leader has reportedly shown a willingness to lend the marbles to Athens if he comes to power. Mr Starmer and the Labour party have significant leads over Mr Sunak and the Conservative Party in opinion polls about the next general elections which are due no later than January 2025.
“With Labour, Britain and Greece will remain strong partners,” Mr Mitsotakis wrote on social media site X.
Having once been the word’s dominant colonial power, the U.K. is home to cultural treasures , much of which was obtained using questionable means. Among these cultural artifacts is the ‘Koh-i-noor’ diamond, claimed by India and other countries.