Downing Street has “no plans” to change the laws preventing a return of the ancient sculptures to Greece
The British Museum is legally forbidden from sending the ancient Parthenon Marbles back to Greece, despite reports that such a transfer may be underway, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s office declared on Monday.
While the British Museum’s trustees are free to talk to whomever they please, the office stressed “we have no plans to change the law, which prohibits removing objects from the museum’s collections…apart from certain circumstances. Our position on that hasn’t changed.”
The statement from 10 Downing poured cold water on a report from Athens newspaper Ta Nea claiming that secret talks about the “possible return” of the marbles had been underway between British Museum chair George Osborne and Greek PM Kyriakos Mitsotakis for a year and were at an “advanced stage.”
Osborne, the outlet wrote, met with Mitsotakis in London last week about the marbles, a massive collection of sculpted panels depicting scenes from Greek mythology that were removed from the classical Parthenon temple in Athens in the 19th century. The Greek PM hinted that “maybe a win-win solution can be found that will result in a reunification of the Parthenon Sculptures in Greece while at the same time also taking into consideration concerns that the British Museum may have.”
While the UK has long insisted the marbles were legally taken from the Parthenon by British diplomat Thomas Bruce, the earl of Elgin, who then sold them to the Crown in 1817, Greece argues they were stolen and has demanded their return for years.
The British Museum attempted to bridge the gap with its own statement released over the weekend, declaring: “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.” However, it said, the museum wants “a new Parthenon partnership with Greece.”
Under the 1963 British Museum Act, the museum can only sell or give away items from its collection under three very specific conditions, with one of them being that the trustees decide the object(s) in question are “unfit to be retained in the collections of the Museum and can be disposed of without detriment to the interests of students.”
However, more than half (54%) of the 2,000 UK residents polled earlier this year in a survey commissioned by the Parthenon Project say the marbles should be returned to Greece, with just 16% arguing they should stay in Britain.
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