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‘History and justice’ on side of Greek claim to Elgin Marbles, says minister

The Elgin Marbles are in the British Museum (PA)
The Elgin Marbles are in the British Museum (PA)

Greece’s foreign minister has pushed for Athens to take back the Elgin Marbles as he attended a summit with Foreign Secretary Lord Cameron.

Giorgos Gerapetritis said Greece’s call for the Parthenon Sculptures to be returned from the British Museum was based on “history” and “justice”.

A diplomatic row over the sculptures was triggered when Prime Minister Rishi Sunak cancelled Tuesday’s planned meeting with Greek counterpart Kyriakos Mitsotakis, with No 10 claiming he reneged on assurances not to campaign publicly for the return of the Parthenon artefacts.

Nato’s foreign ministers gathered in Brussels, with former prime minister Lord Cameron and Mr Gerapetritis meeting on the margins of the summit.

Mr Gerapetritis said: “As regards my meeting with Secretary Cameron, once again I would like to say that the Greek government has made a statement concerning the cancellation of the meeting with Prime Minister Sunak.

“What I have to say is that the unification of the Parthenon Sculptures is a claim which is based not only on history, not only on justice but it’s a claim of ecumenical cultural values.

“Irrespective of this, it is my understanding that we need to work on a bilateral basis with the UK and we’re going to serve this purpose in the future in order to deepen this long-standing history we have, the two nations.”

Belgium NATO
Greece’s foreign minister Giorgos Gerapetritis attended the Nato summit (Geert Vanden Wijngaert/AP)

The pair reportedly met on Tuesday, the first day of the two-day summit.

The Greek government has suggested Mr Sunak’s decision to scrap talks with the country’s leader was motivated by the Tories’ domestic political woes.

A spokesman for the Greek prime minister said there were “domestic reasons” for the cancellation of Tuesday’s meeting and pointed to Mr Sunak being “quite behind in the polls” ahead of a likely general election next year.

Downing Street has denied the Greek claim.

Cabinet minister Steve Barclay defended the UK’s handling of the row.

The Environment Secretary told Sky News: “I think the British Museum’s a jewel in the crown, it’s something that people from across the world come and enjoy, and we’re very proud of.

“So, I don’t think anyone wants to relitigate something that’s been settled for a huge amount of time.

“We have very good relations with the Greek government.

Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg
Greek prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis had his meeting with Rishi Sunak cancelled (Jordan Pettitt/PA)

“In terms of the Elgin Marbles, they’re part of the British Museum. That’s something that’s been a constant for many decades. I don’t think anyone sees any need for that to change.”

The sculptures once adorned the Parthenon at the Acropolis in Athens.

They were removed by British diplomat Lord Elgin in the early 19th century, while Athens was still under the rule of the Ottoman Empire and have been in the British Museum since 1816.

Athens wants them back, with Mr Mitsotakis claiming their removal was like cutting the Mona Lisa in half.

Meanwhile, Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle hosted Greek ambassador Yannis Tsaousis in Parliament on Wednesday.

Aides said it was a long-planned visit as part of the Speaker’s regular meetings with diplomats.