Rishi Sunak has denied throwing a “hissy fit” by scrapping a planned meeting with his Greek counterpart after accusing him of grandstanding about the return of the Parthenon Sculptures to Athens.
The Prime Minister sparked a diplomatic row by controversially snubbing Kyriakos Mitsotakis after the Greek leader compared the artifacts’ removal to cutting the Mona Lisa in half.
George Osborne, the former chancellor-turned British Museum chairman, said Mr Sunak may have been indulging in a “hissy fit” as he insisted the feud would not stop long-running talks on an exchange deal to allow the Elgin Marbles to be displayed in Greece.
Asked whether the former senior Tory was right, Mr Sunak told journalists travelling with him to Dubai for the Cop28 climate talks: “No, no. I think I’ve said everything I’ve got to say on this in Parliament the other day and now I’m focused on delivering for people on the things they care about.”
The Prime Minister also hinted that a loan arrangement could be impossible due to Greece’s stance.
“Our position is very clear – as a matter of law the marbles can’t be returned and we’ve been unequivocal about that,” he said.
“And I think the British Museum’s website itself says that in order for the loans to happen the recipient needs to acknowledge the lawful ownership of the country that’s lending the things and I think the Greeks have not suggested that they are in any way shape or form willing to do that.
“Our view and our position on that is crystal clear: the marbles were acquired legally at the time.”
Greek newspaper reacts
In Greece, reaction to the snub hasn’t gone down well with all newspapers.
Free Hour, which is known for its audacious and confrontational style, expressed its stark disapproval with a provocative and explicit headline, directly targeting Sunak.
The PM got a front page spread with the headline reading in English, for the benefit of the British government: “Fuck you, bastard!”