Diplomatic sparks are flying after Britain’s prime minister abruptly cancelled a meeting with his Greek counterpart in which they were due to discuss long-contested artefacts.
British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak was scheduled on Monday to meet visiting Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, who planned to raise the status of the Elgin Marbles, a set of 2,500-year-old Greek sculptures that Athens wants Britain to return.
Greece asserts that the marbles, taken from the Parthenon temple by British diplomat Lord Elgin in the early 19th century, were stolen – an assertion denied by Britain.
The issue has been a source of contention between the countries for decades.
Mitsotakis, in a statement, expressed “displeasure” that the British prime minister had cancelled their meeting at the last minute, accusing him of sidestepping the issue.
“Greece’s position on the issue of the Parthenon friezes is well known. I had hoped to have the opportunity to discuss them with my British counterpart,” Mitsotakis lamented.
“Those who believe in the rightness and validity of their positions are never afraid to confront the arguments,” he added.
Mitsokis reportedly declined a UK offer to meet Deputy Prime Minister Oliver Dowden instead.
A Downing Street spokesperson, responding to Mitsotakis’s statement, said “the UK-Greece relationship is hugely important”, citing joint work within NATO and “tackling shared challenges like illegal migration” and the wars in Ukraine and the Middle East.
“The deputy prime minister was available to meet with the Greek PM to discuss these important issues,” the spokesperson added, without referencing the marbles issue.