Elgin Marbles will not return permanently to Greece, Rishi Sunak vows as he rules out law change

13 March 2023, 13:02 | Updated: 28 November 2023, 10:30

Rishi Sunak (r) arriving in California vows the Elgin Marbles will not return permanently to Greece (l)
Rishi Sunak (r) arriving in California vows the Elgin Marbles will not return permanently to Greece (l). Picture: Alamy

By StephenRigley

Rishi Sunak has said there are "no plans" to change a law which prevents the Elgin Marbles returning to Greece permanently.

The sculptures - also known as the Parthenon sculptures or Elgin Marbles - were controversially removed from one of the world's most historic monuments in Athens by British diplomat Lord Elgin in the early 19th century and shipped to the UK.

Speaking on a visit to San Diego, the Prime Minister said that the ancient carvings are “a huge asset to this country” and pledged to keep hold of them for UK audiences.

Former chancellor George Osborne, who is currently British Museum chairman has been drawing up an agreement with Greece to loan back the Elgin Marbles in a long-term "cultural exchange".

Mr Sunak said: “The UK has cared for the Elgin Marbles for generations. Our galleries and museums are funded by taxpayers because they are a huge asset to this country.

“We share their treasures with the world, and the world comes to the UK to see them. The collection of the British Museum is protected by law, and we have no plans to change it."

Elgin Marbles in the British Museum
Elgin Marbles in the British Museum. Picture: Alamy
Rishi Sunak with Australian PM Anthony Albanese in San Diego
Rishi Sunak with Australian PM Anthony Albanese in San Diego. Picture: Alamy

Read More: 'They are coming home': Greek official claims Elgin Marbles will return to Athens by end of year

Read More: Elgin Marbles 'close to Greece return' as British Museum's George Osborne draws up landmark deal

The marbles could only be permanently returned to Greece if an act of Parliament that protects their status in Britain was ripped up by MPs.

The Parthenon Project, which has been backed by MPs from different political parties to settle the issue, said on Sunday the British Museum's Parthenon collection could be returned to Greece under a long-term cultural partnership agreement.

Decisions about the care and management of specific collections are a matter for the museum and its trustees.

Since independence in 1832, Greece has repeatedly called for the return of the sculptures.

Lord Elgin, who was the ambassador to the Ottoman Empire which then ruled Greece, oversaw the removal of the sculptures from the Parthenon temple in Athens as part of a lengthy operation which started in 1801.

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