Sunak fluffs ‘Empire 2.0’ agenda
Sunak fluffs ‘Empire 2.0’ agenda


Items looted from Greece by the British are once again the subject of a diplomatic crisis after a feeble attempt by British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to boost his support among English nationalists.

The group of sculptures and friezes removed from the ancient Parthenon temple in Athens city centre, known in England as the ‘Elgin Marbles,’ have been the subject of a long running dispute since they were removed to London in the early 19th century under the pretence of preservation.

Last week, the British PM was accused of grandstanding after he cancelled a meeting with the Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis. Sunak claimed he was irritated by Mitsotakis’s response to questions during an appearance on the BBC.

The issue is being used by the Tory government to appeal to the far-right as part of a new post-Brexit ‘culture war’ against the EU.

Even Tory MPs said the attempt to at bully the Greek PM was “weak” and that Sunak had come across as “too thin-skinned for basic democracy”.

The friezes and pediment figures decorated the Parthenon temple in Athens, built 447-432 BC.

The items stolen by Britain include a majority of the sculpted frieze that once ran all round the building, plus 17 life-sized marble figures.

A team organised by the British ambassador ‘Lord Elgin’ (Thomas Bruce) had claimed the sculptures were better off in Britain than Greece, but several were damaged when they were ripped out of the temple.

Historic laws which restrict certain British museums from disposing of objects in their collections have been used in the past as an excuse to stop the repatriation of stolen items.

The British Museum claims it is restricted from returning items from its collection, including the Benin Bronzes from Nigeria, looted in the 19th century, although other museums including several in Scotland have already repatriated some stolen items.

Greek officials say there was never an “agreement” between the two sides not to discuss the issue and believe Sunak’s move was driven by political expediency.

“If Hamas can converse with Israel then Sunak can converse with Mitsotakis too,” Greek Foreign Minister George Gerapetritis said at an event at the London School of Economics (LSE) on Monday.

“The demand for the reunification of the Parthenon Sculptures is a demand that arises from law, from history and from universal cultural values,” he added.

“Regardless of this, it is our belief that bilateral relations between Greece and the UK should be good and we will work with my counterpart in this direction.”

Tory officials described the row as Sunak ‘looking strong and standing up for British interests’, and attacked opposition Labour leader Keir Starmer for separately meeting with the Greek PM, arguing it showed “Britain’s historical treasures” could not be trusted with Labour.

Labour sources described the incident as “a bizarre piece of culture war theatre” and Sunak’s behaviour as “pathetic”.

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