No negotiations for the return of the Parthenon marbles. A real diplomatic clash has opened between the United Kingdom and Greece: the spark was an interview with the Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, currently visiting London since the beginning of the week. Following this interview, his British colleague Rishi Sunak decided to cancel at short notice the bilateral meeting that was supposed to conclude the event today, effectively closing the door of Downing Street to the Greek guest. A real slap in the face, according to the UK press, to which Mistotakis – “astonished and irritated” in the words of his entourage – could only respond by leaving for home in these hours with an unprecedented stalemate in terms of relations between governments. Having rejected, as a humiliating demotion of his status, London’s cold last-minute offer of an alternative interview with Deputy Prime Minister Oliver Dowden.
Athens calls for the return of archaeological finds
What sparked the controversy between the two prime ministers – both conservatives and leaders of NATO allied countries – were the strong words to the BBC with which Mitsotakis once again called for “the return to Greece” of the precious Parthenon marbles – brought to London by Lord Elgin in the 19th century at the time of the British Empire thanks to the complacency of the Ottomans and then acquired by the British Museum in London – dismissing even a hypothetical division as unacceptable: sarcastically equated to the idea of ”dividing the Mona Lisa in two”. Statements that sent Sunak into a rage, who through a spokesperson reiterated London’s principled position against the restitution of a “legally acquired” historical heritage: restitution prohibited by law by an ad hoc regulation approved years ago in Westminster, the British Museum Act.
Government spokesperson: “Canceled meeting with Sunak is unprecedented”
After Sunak’s decision, there was a harsh reaction from the Greek government spokesman, Pavlos Marinakis, who commented: “It’s not something that is done. We are looking for a precedent and we can’t find one.” According to Marinakis, the move was “not only disrespectful to the Greek prime minister but also to the Greek people.” The spokesperson then added: “We are assuming the obvious, that he [Sunak] was annoyed by comments reiterating the country’s adamant position regarding the return of the Parthenon marbles.”
The proposal for a meeting with the Greek deputy prime minister was rejected
In an interview given to the BBC last Sunday, Mitsotakis reiterated Greece’s request to bring the famous Parthenon marbles, now kept in the British Museum, back to Athens. “They would be better off in the Acropolis Museum. It’s not a question of restitution, the sculptures belong to Greece and were stolen,” the Greek prime minister said during the interview, and explained: “Having some pieces of the Parthenon in London and the rest in Athens is like cutting the Mona Lisa in half.” Kathimerini also underlines how after the cancellation of the meeting the British counterpart proposed that Mitsotakis meet Deputy Prime Minister Oliver Dowden, a proposal that Athens rejected, expressing its disappointment.