Greece Broke Agreement Not To Air ‘Ancient Grievances’ Over Elgin Marbles, Says No.10

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Downing Street has accused the Greek prime minister of breaking an agreement no to air “ancient grievances” about the Elgin Marbles in public, in an escalation of the diplomatic row.

A huge argument has erupted between London and Athens after Rishi Sunak cancelled a meeting with Greek prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, which was due to take place today, at the last minute.

He was offered a meeting with deputy prime minister Oliver Dowden instead, but refused.

No.10 said the meeting with Sunak had been axed after Mitsotakis responded to a question about the Parthenon Sculptures – the Elgin Marbles – during a TV interview on Sunday.

The marbles were brought to Britain in the 19th century after British ambassador Lord Elgin removed them from the Parthenon on the Acropolis in Athens.

They are on permanent display in the British Museum in London and Greece wants them back.

Mitsotakis told BBC 1′s Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg programme: “It’s as if I told you that you would cut the Mona Lisa in half, and you will have half of it at the Louvre and half of it at the British Museum, do you think your viewers would appreciate the beauty of the painting in such a way?

“Well, this is exactly what happened with the Parthenon Sculptures.”

Wading into the row this morning, Sunak’s spokesman said: “When requesting a meeting with the prime minister, the Greek government provided reassurances they would not use the visit as a public platform to re-litigate long-settled matters related to the ownership of the Parthenon Sculptures.

“If you agree to something and do not adhere to it there’ll be a reaction to it.”

He added: “We want to focus on challenges that affect people right now rather than ancient grievances.”

Pavlos Marinakis, the Greek government spokesperson, told SKAI TV: “Britain’s attitude shows no respect for the prime minister and our country.”

And Dimitris Tsiodras, the head of the Greek PM’s press office, told Mega TV: “Greece is a proud country, with a long history. Mitsotakis represents this country, this people. You can’t just say ’look, the meeting isn’t going to happen, see the deputy PM’.”

The Greek PM did hold talks with Keir Starmer during his trip to London and Labour has branded Sunak’s behaviour “pathetic”.

But No.10 repeated the British government’s position that: “We do not want to see them leave the British Museum.”

Lord Vaizey, the former Tory culture secretary,  who chairs the Parthenon Project group which campaigns for the Elgin Marble to be returned to Greece, said Sunak was acting in an “odd” way

“It is tied up to a certain extent in the traditional culture wars, where anyone who dares to say that British history wasn’t perfect is somehow unpatriotic,” he told BBC Radio 4′s Today programme.