Prime Minister of the United Kingdom Rishi Sunak said there are no plans for Parthenon Marbles to be returned to Greece, calling them a “huge asset” to the country.
“The UK has cared for the Elgin marbles for generations,” Sunak told reporters Monday on his way to California for a defense and security summit with President Joe Biden and Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese. “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.”
Sunak’s comments were made despite a campaign for the return of the marble sculptures to Greece, months of talks confirmed between the British Museum and the Acropolis Museum in Athens, and an advisory board launched last October — chaired by the former Conservative culture minister — dedicated to returning them.
The British Museum is in charge of the care and management of collections like the Parthenon Marbles, also known as the Elgin Marbles. They have been displayed there since 1832 after being controversially stripped from the Parthenon by the British diplomat Lord Elgin, a British diplomat.
While decisions about the care and management of specific collections are made by the British Museum, Downing Street has said a long-term loan would not be in the spirit of the government’s position.
Previous prime ministers Liz Truss and Boris Johnson also made similar statements regarding the future of the sculptures at the British Museum and the possibility of their return to Greece.
British Museum chair George Osborne has also stated that the Parthenon Marbles will remain at the London institution’s collection under his management.
“We hear the voices calling for restitution. But creating this global British Museum was the dedicated work of many generations,” Osborne reportedly said at the institution’s annual trustees dinner on November 2, according to the Art Newspaper. “Dismantling it must not become the careless act of a single generation.”
According to The Guardian, which first reported Sunak’s comments, government ministers in the UK have no intention of amending the British Museum Act, which prevents the museum from returning any items from its collection permanently except in very limited circumstances.
In January, the Greek Ministry of Culture released a statement renouncing the possibility of any agreement that affirms UK’s claim to ownership of the antiquities.
“We repeat, once again, our country’s firm position that it does not recognize the British Museum’s jurisdiction, possession and ownership of the Sculptures, as they are the product of theft,” the Greek Ministry of Culture said, according to a report from Kathimerini, Greece’s newspaper of record.