British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s decision to cancel a meeting with his Greek counterpart Kyriakos Mitsotakis is “unprecedented” and “disrespectful,” the government spokesman in Athens said on Tuesday.
“It is not something that is done. We are looking for a precedent and cannot find one,” Pavlos Marinakis told Skai TV, after Mitsotakis was informed on Monday evening that his meeting with Sunak on Tuesday was being called off, adding that the move was “not only disrespectful to the Greek prime minister but also to the Greek people.”
“We are assuming the obvious, that he [Sunak] was annoyed by comments reiterating the country’s fixed position on the return of the Parthenon Sculptures,” Marinakis said, referring to an interview Mitsotakis gave to the BBC on Sunday, where he repeated Greece’s demands for the return of the marbles.
“Expressing a difference is better, especially when a prime minister from a different country is on a visit with a heavily laden agenda, like the Mideast crisis,” Marinakis told Skai.
Mitsotakis annoyance after Sunak’s snub
Late Monday Mitsotakis issued a statement expressing his annoyance at the last-minute cancellation of the meeting.
“I express my annoyance at the fact that the British Prime Minister canceled our scheduled meeting just hours before it was due to take place,” Mitsotakis said. “Greece and Britain are united by traditional ties of friendship and the framework of our bilateral relations is extremely broad.
“Greece’s positions on the issue of the Parthenon Sculptures are well known,” he added. “I was hoping to have the opportunity to discuss them with my British counterpart as well, along with the major challenges of the international moment: Gaza, Ukraine, the Climate crisis, and migration.”
“Anyone who believes in the correctness and justice of their positions is never afraid of confronting arguments,” the Greek PM added.
Opposition parties in Greece condemned the stance of Sunak. “The decision of British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to cancel his scheduled meeting with Mr. Mitsotakis is unacceptable,” SYRIZA-Progressive Alliance leader Stefanos Kasselakis said in a post on “X”.
Kasselakis underlined that “the case of the Parthenon Marbles is an issue that goes beyond the face of the respective Greek Prime Minister and the party confrontations. It is a national affair that concerns the history of an entire people. And a moral issue concerning the shameless theft of cultural wealth from its natural space.”
“Therefore, we demand everyone’s respect for our institutions and rights,” he underlined.
The abrupt cancellation of the meeting between the Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and his UK counterpart was an “unacceptable action and entirely contrary to every precept of diplomacy,” said Dimitris Mantzos, who heads the foreign affairs department of the opposition PASOK-KINAL party, in a comment on Tuesday.
“The reunification of the Parthenon Sculptures, a world-class monument, is a global demand,” he said.
Why Sunak canceled the meeting with Mitsotakis
The Financial Times on Tuesday quoted a senior British Conservative party official as confirming that the meeting “became impossible… following commentary regarding the Elgin Marbles prior to it.”
“Our position is clear: the Elgin Marbles are part of the permanent collection of the British Museum and belong here. It is reckless for any British politician to suggest that this is subject to negotiation,” the official told the FT.
The comment is believed to indicate Sunak’s annoyance at Mitsotakis’ meeting on Monday with the leader of the opposition Labour Party, Sir Keir Starmer, who has indicated that he would not oppose an agreement between the British Museum and the Greek government for returning the sculptural decorations stripped from the Parthenon by Lord Elgin in the early 19th century.
Transport Secretary Mark Harper told BBC Breakfast on Tuesday it was a “matter of regret” that no meeting would take place between the two countries after Mitsotakis declined a secondary offer to meet Deputy Prime Minister Oliver Dowden instead.
Asked whether the government’s treatment of the Greek leader was rude, Harper said the Greeks had been offered a senior-level meeting but were entitled to take their own view.
Hard to know which was more insulting to the Greek PM: Sunak cancelling the meeting in the first place or offering a meeting with deputy PM Oliver Dowden instead. What a way to treat a close ally at a time when Britain needs all the friends it can get. https://t.co/J6TraT5vkq
— Simon Nixon (@Simon_Nixon) November 28, 2023