Greece’s Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said on Wednesday that the cancellation of his meeting with Rishi Sunak was an “unfortunate incident,” but it would not have any impact on ties with the UK.
“This unfortunate incident… will not affect Greek-British relations. It had a positive aspect, as our just request for the reunification of the sculptures gained even greater publicity,” he said during a meeting with President Katerina Sakellaropoulou.
“I think that it will not affect the Greek-British relations in the long term. It is a relationship with historical depth,” Mitsotakis added.
In response, Sakellaropoulou voiced confidence in Greece’s cause, stating, “The reunification of the sculptures, a request made since the establishment of the [modern Greek] state, has garnered understanding from the international community and the British public, marking a significant gain. The just demand of our country will find a response.”
Greece to work towards good relations with the UK
The request for the reunification of the Parthenon Marbles is a request that arises from law, from history and from universal cultural values, Foreign Minister George Gerapetritis said when asked about his meeting with his British counterpart, David Cameron, upon his arrival for the second day of the NATO foreign ministers’ meeting in Brussels on Wednesday.
“Regardless of this, it is our belief that the bilateral relations between Greece and the United Kingdom should be at a good level and we will work with my counterpart in this direction,” he underlined.
Downing Street insisted the talks between Sunak and Mitsotakis had only been agreed on the basis the Greeks would not use the trip as a “public platform” to lobby for the return of the ancient artefacts, which are on display at the British Museum. The Greek side has denied any such assurances were given.
The spat came after Mitsotakis described the retention of the 2,500 years old sculptures at the British Museum as akin to the Mona Lisa being cut in half in an interview with the BBC on Sunday.
Officials in the UK criticize Sunak over spat with Greece
Sunak has been criticized for his response from within the ruling Conservative Party.
Former culture minister Ed Vaizey told Politico: “It just strikes me as very odd to kind of throw your toys out of the pram because somebody has behaved badly”. He added: “You should rise above it.”
He stressed that the “The UK-Greek relationship is very important” and that the row “feels like a bit of a diplomatic fail to me.”
There was also criticism of the prime minister from the Conservative chair of the foreign affairs committee Alicia Kearns. “I struggle to understand why the decision was made”, she told Sky News.
“It does feel difficult to believe this was on the basis of the Elgin marbles … that a meeting was cancelled with a NATO ally, with whom we have an important relationship.”
William Hague, a former foreign secretary who is thought to be a close ally and mentor of the prime minister, told Times Radio the row is “not a great advert for diplomacy all round actually”.