British PM Boris Johnson told visiting Greek PM Kyriakos Mitsotakis on Tuesday that the British Museum alone is responsible for dealing with Greece’s request for the return of the Parthenon Marbles.
“The Prime Minister said that he understood the strength of feeling of the Greek people on this issue, but reiterated the UK’s longstanding position that this matter is one for the trustees of the British Museum,” a Downing Street spokesperson said after the meeting.
“The leaders agreed that this issue in no way affects the strength of the UK-Greece partnership.”
Johnson met Mitsotakis, at No 10 on Tuesday evening, with Mitsotakis reiterating his offer to exchange a series of treasures that had never before left Greece as rotating exhibitions for the British Museum in exchange for the marbles.
Appealing to Johnson’s background as a classicist, Mitsotakis told him he was “a true philhellene” – while insisting the Greek government did not consider the marbles question to be a “footnote” that could be forgotten or overlooked.
The two leaders exchanged diplomatic niceties in front of the cameras before their meeting. Johnson thanked Mitsotakis for his leadership at the COP26 climate summit as he welcomed him. The Greek PM offered his congratulations to the UK Prime Minister following the Glasgow meeting while Johnson said “we made a lot of progress.”
The Greek PM also said there was “a lot to talk about” surrounding the “very strong bilateral relationship” between Greece and the UK.
Greeting Mitsotakis, UK PM Johnson said: “Great to welcome my friend Kyriakos Mitsotakis to London. We have been… working on this for a long time and the relationship between Greece and the UK is of the utmost importance to me, to us.”
Johnson even mentioned the bicentennial of the start of the Greek War of Independence in 1821, and stressed the support offered by the UK to the country, which helped Greece win its independence, “against all odds,” as Greek PM Mitsotakis stressed.
Parthenon Marbles focus of conversation between Mitsotakis and Johnson
Despite their friendly rapport, Mitsotakis challenged Johnson over the return of the Parthenon Marbles to Greece.
The leaders do not agree over the ownership of the marble masterpieces removed from the Acropolis more than 200 years ago, but they stressed that the disagreement does not harm UK-Greek relations overall.
Johnson has insisted they were “legally acquired” and are rightfully owned by the British Museum, whereas the Greek prime minister argues they were “stolen” from Athens.
The Parthenon Marbles were taken from Athens by British nobleman Lord Elgin after he claimed to have made a deal with the Ottoman ruler of the country in the 19th century.
Many historians have since found evidence that the deal made by Lord Elgin to take the marble sculptures to England had no legal standing and is therefore void.
Despite this evidence, the British Museum has consistently refused to return the priceless marbles, despite pleas and protests by not only Greeks, but also by many others across the world, who view Athens as the marbles’ rightful home.
For their part, UK officials claim that the matter is out of their hands, and is the British Museum’s responsibility, not theirs.
Max Blain, spokesman for PM Johnson, stated Tuesday that “The possession of the marbles is a matter purely for the museum, it is not one for the U.K. government.”
Mitsotakis stressed the importance of returning the Parthenon Marbles to Greece during an interview with the Financial Times.
“It’s a topic I really care about and not just a footnote in my visit to the UK,” he stated.
Although most people who support the return of the Marbles to Greece cite their importance to Greek culture and history, as well as the circumstances of their removal from the country as reasons for them to be brought back to Greece, Mitsotakis offered another reason.
“If I were in the PM’s shoes and I were thinking out of the box in terms of global Britannia, and the idea of Britain really playing a role in the post Brexit world, (it) would be a fantastic coup for public diplomacy if they were to look at this from a different perspective,” Mitsotakis stated.
Greek PM a hit on British TV
Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis received praise from British TV presenters after he appeared on the popular TV show Good Morning Britain on Tuesday.
Mitsotakis, who was interviewed by Susanna Reid and Ed Balls on the ITV show, discussed his upcoming meeting with his British counterpart Boris Johnson.
The presenters highlighted the fact that the British Prime Minister has boycotted Good Morning Britain for 1,595 days, while Mitsotakis was more than happy to appear on the show and discuss a variety of topics, including illegal immigration to Greece and the return of the Parthenon Marbles.
After the interview, the pair spoke with fellow ITV presenter Lorraine Kelly, who was full of praise for the Greek leader while also hitting out at Johnson. According to the Daily Express, Kelly began by saying: “I just want to share with you as well we have had an outpouring of love for the Greek Prime Minister… He’s lovely, I like him,” Kelly commented.