Britain has ‘nothing to apologise for’ over Elgin Marbles and should resist pressure to return them to Greece, top think-tank says
The UK has ‘nothing to apologise for’ over the Elgin Marbles and must resist pressure to loan or return them to Greece, a think-tank says today.
Policy Exchange is launching a report on the sculptures ahead of a meeting of the British Museum’s trustees later this week.
Former chancellor George Osborne, who is now chairman of the institution, has been exploring the possibility of returning the 2,500-year-old antiquities to their homeland as part of a ‘cultural exchange’. But UK law prevents the museum from giving away objects in its collection.
The Marbles, taken by Lord Elgin from the Acropolis of Athens at the beginning of the 19th century when he was ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, have long been at the centre of dispute between Greece and Britain.
But historian Sir Noel Malcolm, who wrote the report for Policy Exchange, says the claim that Elgin’s removal of the sculptures was illegal is false – but it is true that his actions saved the Marbles from serious damage, dispersal and destruction.
The UK has ‘nothing to apologise for’ over the Elgin Marbles, Policy Exchange has said
The Marbles were taken by Lord Elgin from the Acropolis of Athens at the beginning of the 19th century when he was ambassador to the Ottoman Empire
He also argues the claim that Greek identity is essentially harmed by their absence from the country is greatly exaggerated.
Sir Noel, a senior research fellow of All Souls College, Oxford, says today: ‘The Elgin Marbles are the Crown Jewels of the British Museum – a national museum with a universal mission. We should feel proud of our ability to show them to the world in London. There is nothing to apologise for here.’
The report also argues there would be a significant risk of non-return if the Marbles were lent to Greece. Polling separately commissioned by Policy Exchange revealed that only 11 per cent of the public think the Elgin Marbles would return to London at the end of a loan period.
It comes after Rishi Sunak last week poured cold water on the idea that they might be sent to Greece and claimed there were ‘no plans’ to change the law that keeps them in Britain.
The report recommends the Government should affirm its support for retaining the Marbles, and should make no change to the current law. It adds that the British Museum should revise its loans policy, explicitly excluding loans to countries which do not recognise the museum’s ownership of the objects concerned.
Backing the report, Tory MP Tim Loughton, chairman of the British Museum all-party parliamentary group, said recent calls to give the Marbles to Greece are ‘misguided and dangerous and threaten to open the floodgates for the despoliation of our world institutions’.