PM rules out law change over long-running 'Elgin Marbles' row

Rishi Sunak rules out changing law that could prevent British Museum handing back ‘Elgin Marbles’ to Greece after George Osborne is revealed to have held secret talks over ancient sculptures

  • No10 rules out law change that would prevent Elgin Marbles returning to Greece
  • George Osborne, now chair of the British Museum, has held talks with Greek PM
  • The 2,500-year-old sculptures have been the subject of a long-running row

Downing Street today ruled out changing a law that would prevent the British Museum from handing the ‘Elgin Marbles’ back to Greece.

It recently emerged that former chancellor George Osborne, now the chairman of the British Museum, has been holding talks with Greece’s prime minister over the possible return of the 2,500-year-old sculptures.

But No10 said there were no plans to amend legislation that prevents objects being removed from the British Museum’s collection, apart from in certain circumstances.

The Parthenon sculptures were made between 447BC and 432BC and decorated the Parthenon on the Acropolis in Athens.

Lord Elgin removed about half of the remaining sculptures from the ruins of the Parthenon between 1801 and 1805, before they entered the British Museum.

The 17 figures have since been the subject of a 200-year-old dispute over ownership between Athens and London.

The Parthenon sculptures were made between 447BC and 432BC and decorated the Parthenon on the Acropolis in Athens

The PM’s spokesman said there were no plans to amend legislation that prevents objects being removed from the British Museum’s collection, apart from in certain circumstances

It recently emerged that former chancellor George Osborne, now the chairman of the British Museum, has been holding talks with Greece’s prime minister

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: ‘We have no plans to change the law, which prevents removing objects from the British Museum’s collection, apart from in certain circumstances.

‘Our position on this hasn’t changed. Decisions relating to the care and management of the collections are a matter for the Museum and its trustees.

‘The Parthenon Sculptures are legally owned by the trustees and operationally independent of the Government.’

No10 also claimed the public would ‘vote with their feet’ if they dislike museums removing controversial objects from their collections.

‘I’m cautious about commenting about how specific museums should display their collections, I think that is rightly a matter for them,’ Rishi Sunak’s spokesman added.

‘Clearly they will need to justify any decisions made to the public and the public will make a judgment based on voting with their feet on whether they think they’ve got the right balance.

According to Greek daily newspaper Ta Nea, Mr Osborne and Greek PM Kyriakos Mitsotakis met at a five-star hotel in Knightsbridge, west London, last week to discuss the sculptures.

They are also said to have first held ‘exploratory talks’ in November last year at the Greek ambassador’s Mayfair residence.

The British Museum has not denied Mr Osborne had held talks with the Greek premier.

A spokesperson said: ‘The British Museum has publicly called for a new Parthenon partnership with Greece and we’ll talk to anyone, including the Greek government, about how to take that forward.

‘As the chair of trustees said last month, we operate within the law and we’re not going to dismantle our great collection as it tells a unique story of our common humanity.

‘But we are seeking new positive, long-term partnerships with countries and communities around the world, and that of course includes Greece.’

Former PM Boris Johnson told Mr Mitsotakis during talks in Downing Street last year  that he understood the ‘strength of feeling’ in Greece over the sculptures.

But he insisted the issue was ‘one for the trustees of the British Museum’.

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