Rishi Sunak completely rules out return of Elgin Marbles as row with Greek PM escalates

Sunak/Elgin Marbles

Rishi Sunak completely rules out return of Elgin Marbles as row with Greek PM escalates

Holly Bishop

By Holly Bishop

Published: 27/11/2023

- 13:00

Updated: 28/11/2023

- 08:20

The Greek Prime Minister is set to meet with the PM and Keir Starmer this week

Rishi Sunak is unwilling to consider returning the Elgin Marbles from the British Museum to Greece, Downing Street has indicated.

The Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis is set to meet with the PM and Keir Starmer this week, and is expected to bring up the sculptures.

Sunak is unwilling to budge on a potential return, whereas Starmer is reportedly open to the idea.

Sunak’s spokesman told reporters: “We have a long-standing position, I think the Prime Minister’s on the record that the Parthenon Sculptures in the British Museum were legally acquired under the laws at the time. They’re legally owned by the trustees of the British Museum.

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“We fully support this position, indeed the British Museum Act prohibits the removal of objects from the museum’s collection. We have no plans to change the law.”

The official said the PM has been “robust” in his view that the marbles are a “significant asset” to the UK, which Sunak says has “safeguarded” the treasures.

“We have cared for the marbles for generations and our position is we want that to continue. The world comes to the UK regularly to see the marbles and there are no plans to change that or to change the law.”

No10 rejected Mitsotakis’s likening of the British Museum’s possession of the Elgin Marbles to the Mona Lisa painting being cut in half.


Greece want the marbles to be returned to where they were originally carved


Asked if Sunak recognises that characterisation, his spokesman said: “Obviously it’s not something we would agree with.

“These were legally acquired at the time, they’re legally owned by the trustees of the museum. We support that position and there’s no plan to change the law which governs it”.

Mitsotakis said that returning the sculptures would allow them to be appreciated “in their original setting”.

Starmer, who is meeting with the Greek leader today, is reported to support a loan deal that would see the antiquities return to where they were carved 2,500 years ago.

Greece spark fury and are accused of ‘blatant opportunism' amid fresh Elgin Marbles demand


At the beginning of this year, the British Museum entered talks with Greece to discuss the fate of the antiques.

Talks have been “constructive”, according to the British Museum.

British Museum chair George Osborne has proposed a loan deal where the works of art would be sent to the Acropolis Museum in Athens and in return, Greek treasures would be sent over.

Over time, different sections of the sculpture would be put on display in Greece, though they would not be displayed together.

“I hope we’ll find a way to partner with Greece so that a portion of the Marbles spend part of their time in Athens . . . and we see more of their treasures in return,” Osborne wrote in the Spectator last week.

“We may well not succeed but it’s surely worth the effort.”

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