Boris Johnson has come under fresh pressure over the future of the Elgin Marbles after the Greek Prime Minister urged him to ‘seize the moment’ and return the historic artefacts to Athens.
Kyriakos Mitsotakis, writing in today’s Mail on Sunday, says when he met Mr Johnson in Downing Street last week, the Prime Minister promised not to ‘stand in the way of Greece establishing a formal dialogue with the British Museum over the future of the marbles’.
Mr Mitsotakis has offered to lend some of his country’s treasures, such as the Artemision Bronze – an ancient Greek sculpture of Zeus or Poseidon – to the UK in exchange for the return of the 2,500-year-old sculptures, which were removed from the Parthenon by British envoy Lord Elgin between 1801 and 1812.
The UK’s long-standing position has been that the Elgin Marbles were acquired in accordance with the law, and any decision on their return has to be made by the British Museum, which operates independently of the Government and free from political interference.
The Greek PM has asked Boris to return the Elgin Marbles (pictured) to Athens
Those who oppose returning them warn that it would set a precedent, triggering the swapping of historic treasures around the globe.
Arguing that classics scholar Mr Johnson ‘understands the unique bond that ties modernity to ancient history’, Mr Mitsotakis says the Prime Minister has acknowledged the strength of feeling among the Greek people.
He writes: ‘This year marks the 200th anniversary of Greece’s war of independence against the Ottoman Empire, a war in which Britain stood with Greece in the fight for freedom.
‘What greater manifestation of the Prime Minister’s vision of a new, self-confident, open, and truly global Britain could there be, then, than for his government to take a bold step forward and, with the British Museum, repatriate the Parthenon Sculptures?’
He adds: ‘Reuniting the marbles would be made very much easier if the British Government cut the political restraints in the form of the British Museum Act of 1963 that tie the hands of the museum.
Mr Mitsotakis has