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Boris under pressure over Elgin Marbles as Greek PM insists he promised not to stand in way of talks

Boris Johnson has come under fresh pressure over the future of the Elgin Marbles after the Greek Prime Minister urged him to ‘seize the moment’ and return the historic artefacts to Athens.

Kyriakos Mitsotakis, writing in today’s Mail on Sunday, says when he met Mr Johnson in Downing Street last week, the Prime Minister promised not to ‘stand in the way of Greece establishing a formal dialogue with the British Museum over the future of the marbles’.

Mr Mitsotakis has offered to lend some of his country’s treasures, such as the Artemision Bronze – an ancient Greek sculpture of Zeus or Poseidon – to the UK in exchange for the return of the 2,500-year-old sculptures, which were removed from the Parthenon by British envoy Lord Elgin between 1801 and 1812.

The UK’s long-standing position has been that the Elgin Marbles were acquired in accordance with the law, and any decision on their return has to be made by the British Museum, which operates independently of the Government and free from political interference.

The Greek PM has asked Boris to return the Elgin Marbles (pictured) to Athens

Those who oppose returning them warn that it would set a precedent, triggering the swapping of historic treasures around the globe.

Arguing that classics scholar Mr Johnson ‘understands the unique bond that ties modernity to ancient history’, Mr Mitsotakis says the Prime Minister has acknowledged the strength of feeling among the Greek people.

He writes: ‘This year marks the 200th anniversary of Greece’s war of independence against the Ottoman Empire, a war in which Britain stood with Greece in the fight for freedom.

‘What greater manifestation of the Prime Minister’s vision of a new, self-confident, open, and truly global Britain could there be, then, than for his government to take a bold step forward and, with the British Museum, repatriate the Parthenon Sculptures?’

He adds: ‘Reuniting the marbles would be made very much easier if the British Government cut the political restraints in the form of the British Museum Act of 1963 that tie the hands of the museum.

Mr Mitsotakis has offered to lend some of his country¿s treasures, such as the Artemision Bronze to the UK in exchange for the return of the artefacts

Mr Mitsotakis has offered to lend some of his country’s treasures, such as the Artemision Bronze to the UK in exchange for the return of the artefacts 

Greek PM Kyriakos Mitsotakis

Prime Minister Boris Johnson

Mr Mitsotakis said Mr Johnson has told him he ‘would not stand in the way of Greece establishing a formal dialogue with the British Museum over the future of the marbles’

‘Now, given that the Prime Minister has told me he would not stand in the way of Greece establishing a formal dialogue with the British Museum over the future of the marbles, I can only assume that … he will not obstruct any future agreement and that, instead, the Prime Minister would seek to amend the relevant legislation to allow the sculptures’ return.’

Mr Mitsotakis says his demand for their return from the British Museum has been bolstered by the fact that polls point to a growing majority of Britons in favour of repatriation.

The most recent survey found that 62 per cent of people are in favour of restoring artefacts to their country of origin, with just 15 per cent against.

The human rights lawyer Amal Clooney, the wife of Hollywood actor George Clooney – who has himself clashed with Mr Johnson over the fate of the Marbles – is advising the Greek culture ministry on its options.

The main legal argument for their retention by the United Kingdom is that Lord Elgin was granted permission to take them in the form of a permit by the Ottomans, who ruled Greece at the time.

Mr Mitsotakis says his demand for their return from the British Museum has been bolstered by the fact that polls point to a growing majority of Britons in favour of repatriation

Mr Mitsotakis says his demand for their return from the British Museum has been bolstered by the fact that polls point to a growing majority of Britons in favour of repatriation

Amal Clooney, the wife of Hollywood actor George Clooney ¿ who has himself clashed with Mr Johnson over the fate of the Marbles ¿ is advising the Greek culture ministry on its options

Amal Clooney, the wife of Hollywood actor George Clooney – who has himself clashed with Mr Johnson over the fate of the Marbles – is advising the Greek culture ministry on its options

However, the Greeks claim the permit was forged and that the Ottoman Empire was an occupying force that did not represent the wishes of the Greek people.

If successful, the government in Athens would reunite the treasures with the sculptures that Lord Elgin left behind, housed in a museum next to the Parthenon.

Mr Mitsotakis writes: ‘Neither the frieze nor the Parthenon can be viewed as complete without the missing sculptures.’

The British Government has also come under pressure from a growing trend among countries such as Germany, France and Belgium to return artefacts removed from occupied nations during their own colonial eras. 

Any decision by the British Museum would be taken by its trustees, who are chaired by former Chancellor George Osborne. The museum did not respond to a request for comment last night.

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk