‘Deal to be done’ Osbourne hints as Elgin Marbles return to Greece ‘at least for a while’

The former Chancellor spoke with presenter Andrew Marr about the fate of the Elgin Marbles which have been the focus of a long-running diplomatic row between London and Athens. Authorities in Greece wish to see the classical sculptures returned and George Osbourne hinted a deal could be reached where the ancient artefacts could be displayed in both countries. 

Mr Osbourne told LBC: “The Elgin Marbles, the Parthenon sculptures, they’re an amazing testament to human civilization.

“In the British Museum, they tell a story about civilization compared to all the other civilizations, China, India, other parts of Mediterranean.

“In Greece, they tell the story, just Greek civilization.

“I think there’s a deal to be done, but I think there’s a deal to be done where we can tell both stories in Athens and in London.

He added: “If we both approach this without a load of preconditions without a load of red lines, and we sit down as sensible people because I think sensible people can arrange something that makes the most of the path novels, but if either side says there’s no give at all, then there won’t be a deal.”

The 5th-century marble depictions which once decorated the Parthenon complex at Athen’s ancient acropolis are currently housed in the British Museum.

They are widely recognised as one of the finest examples of marble sculpture ever discovered. 

Thomas Bruce, the 7th Earl of Elgin and British Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, controversially acquired the Parthenon Sculptures in Athens in the early 19th century. 

Athen has long called for the return of the Parthenon marbles, with Greece’s culture minister, Lina Mendoni, describing the action of Lord Elgin as “serial theft.”

“Over the years, Greek authorities and the international scientific community have demonstrated with unshakeable arguments the true events surrounding the removal of the Parthenon sculptures,” she said.

“Lord Elgin used illicit and inequitable means to seize and export the Parthenon sculptures, without real legal permission to do so, in a blatant act of serial theft.”

Greek prime minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, raised the issue of the Elgin Marbles during a meeting with Prime Minister Boris Johnson, in London last November. 

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Under-Secretary of State, Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Lord Stephen Parkinson told Parliament in February: “Our prime minister emphasized the UK’s longstanding position that this is a matter for the trustees of the British Museum, who legally own the sculptures.

“The British Museum operates independently of the Government, meaning that decisions relating to the care and management of its collections are a matter for its trustees.

“The Government fully supports the position taken by the trustees.”

A Ministry of Culture spokesman added: “The UK has a longstanding position on this issue that has not changed—the Parthenon Sculptures were acquired legally in accordance with the law at the time. The British Museum operates independently of the government and free from political interference. All decisions relating to collections are taken by the Museum’s trustees.”

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