Boris Johnson rules out returning the Elgin Marbles to Greece

Boris Johnson rules out returning the Elgin Marbles to Greece: PM argues British Museum is rightful owner of 2,500-year-old ‘legally acquired’ sculptures

  • Boris Johnson rejects often-repeated requests from Athens to return sculptures
  • PM says they were ‘legally acquired under the appropriate laws of the time’
  • Greece insists the 5th century BC sculptures, were stolen from the Acropolis

Britain is the legitimate owner of the Elgin Marbles and they will not be returned to Greece, Boris Johnson insisted yesterday.

In his first interview with a European newspaper since taking office, the Prime Minister rejected the often-repeated requests from Athens to return the 2,500-year-old sculptures.

He told Greece’s Ta Nea newspaper: ‘I understand the strong feelings of the Greek people – and indeed prime minister [Kyriakos] Mitsotakis.

‘But the UK Government has a firm long-standing position on the sculptures, which is that they were legally acquired by Lord Elgin under the appropriate laws of the time and have been legally owned by the British Museum’s trustees since their acquisition.’ 

The Elgin Marbles were taken from the Arcopolis in Athens more than 200 years ago. Greece insists the 5th century BC sculptures were stolen, but Boris Johnson says they were ‘legally acquired by Lord Elgin under the appropriate laws of the time’

Although Mr Johnson has previously said the Marbles should remain in the British Museum, it is the first time he has commented on the issue as Prime Minister.

The remarks are likely to trigger fresh controversy. Greece insists the sculptures, which date from 5th century BC, were stolen by Elgin, a diplomat, from the Acropolis in Athens more than 200 years ago.

Politicians, including Jeremy Corbyn, have backed returning the Marbles – but the Government insists they were purchased legitimately and have been painstakingly preserved in the UK.

The row intensified last year when the EU suggested the return of the Marbles could form part of the Brexit trade deal.

Mr Johnson, who was a classics student at Oxford, described himself as ‘a keen scholar of Greek history’ in the Ta Nea interview.

Boris Johnson, who studied classics at Oxford, made the comments during his his first interview with a European newspaper since becoming PM.  The Marbles, which show scenes from Greek mythology and Athenian ritual, decorated the Parthenon until it was blown up in warfare in 1687

His ‘personal hero’ is the Athenian statesman Pericles, who led the artistic drive to build religious monuments on the Acropolis. 

The Marbles, which show scenes from Greek mythology and Athenian ritual, decorated the Parthenon until it was blown up in warfare in 1687.

After their purchase by Elgin from the ruling Ottoman Turks, the sculptures were shipped to London, finally reaching the British Museum in 1817. 

The museum’s website insists Elgin removed them ‘with the full knowledge and permission of the Ottoman authorities’.

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