Sunak faces British public opinion backlash over Athens marbles row

Sunak faces British public opinion backlash over Athens marbles row |

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s decision to cancel a last-minute meeting with his Greek counterpart Kyriakos Mitsotakis over the latter’s comments on Parthenon marbles currently in the British Museum has hurt his public image, according to a survey released on Tuesday.

Notably, a survey found that 66% of respondents found Downing Street’s decision to cancel the meeting with Mitsotakis “wrong”, while 11% said it was right.

The Greek premier was supposed to meet Sunak on Tuesday, but the British leader cancelled the night before.

Read more: British diplomatic faux pas sets fire in Greece-UK relations

According to press reports in both countries, the reason was an interview Mitsotakis gave to BBC, in which he insisted that the marbles should be repatriated.

The marbles were removed from Greece in 1801-1804, when Greece was under the Ottoman Empire’s rule, by Lord Elgin.

In 1806, the sculptures were transferred to Britain, and ten years later, the English government purchased them from Elgin. Since then, they have been in the British Museum.

The Greeks say it was “theft” and they must be returned to where they belong, in Athens. For their part, the Brits claim that Elgin’s move was with the permission of the Ottoman Empire, which was ruling Athens at the time.

The same survey found that 49% of respondents consider it correct to return the marbles to Greece, 15% wish to stay in the UK, 26% said they “are not interested” in what will happen, while 10% replied “they don’t know”.

What is next?

Athens, which reacted strongly to what was described as “British diplomatic faux pas”, attributes Sunak’s behaviour to internal UK politics.

Greek government sources explained that 2024 will be a tough election year for the UK and especially for Sunak, who is lagging Labour Party leader Keir Starmer in polls.

“I understand that Sunak is struggling with the polls,” the director of the prime minister’s press office, Dimitris Tsiodras, told Mega TV, estimating with that move, Sunak attempted to attract conservative voters.

Sources from the Greek foreign ministry said late Tuesday that British Foreign Minister David Cameron requested a short meeting with his Greek counterpart, Giorgos Gerapetritis, on the sidelines of the NATO Foreign Ministers’ Summit in Brussels.

The sources explained that the Greek foreign minister pointed out the “disagreement in principle” regarding the issue of the repatriation of the marbles, but the two ministers agreed on the need for cooperation to preserve the relations between Greece and the United Kingdom to address common challenges.

Euractiv understands that Greece aims to de-escalate tensions with London but doesn’t seem eager to sweep the marbles discussion under the carpet.

Greeks insist that it will directly continue its talks with the British Museum and step up “cultural diplomacy” talks considering the growing support in the UK for the marbles to be returned.

(Sarantis Michalopoulos |

Read more with EURACTIV

Sunak faces British public opinion backlash over Athens marbles row |

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