Doubtless I am too soft-hearted, but if it were up to me I would return the Elgin Marbles to Greece at some stage, provided certain conditions were met.
One would be that the Greek government would thank the British Museum for having looked after them so well since they were removed from the Parthenon, and bought by Lord Elgin, at the beginning of the 19th century.
Greece did not then exist, and Athens was a relatively unimportant city in the Ottoman Empire. In a war against the Venetian Republic about 100 years earlier, the Ottoman Turks had used the Parthenon to store gunpowder.
It’s likely that, if Elgin had not paid good money for the Marbles, they would have further deteriorated. Instead of which, much care and love has been lavished on them by their British custodians.
Doubtless I am too soft-hearted, but if it were up to me I would return the Elgin Marbles to Greece at some stage, provided certain conditions were met
So a heartfelt ‘thank you’ would be in order. And then, in the fullness of time if the Greeks were very nice, they could have them back. I don’t suppose we would feel too happy if they had walked off with a chunk of Westminster Abbey.
But what is obviously not acceptable is for the British Government, figuratively speaking, to have a gun put to its head and be told it must consider sending back the Elgin Marbles in order to secure a satisfactory post-Brexit trade deal with the European Union.
That, believe it or not, is what is happening. Greece, supported by Italy and Cyprus, has succeeded in inserting a clause in the EU’s draft negotiating mandate calling for ‘unlawfully removed cultural objects’ to be returned to their ‘countries of origin’.
The Marbles are not named, but there is little doubt as to what is intended. Pressure will be applied on the British to ‘give back’ the Marbles if they want a decent agreement.
Can anyone think of a less neighbourly threat? I am not just thinking of the Greeks, who understandably get emotional about the Marbles. I mean the entire EU negotiating body, which is employing nothing less than Mafiosi tactics.
What in God’s name do the Marbles have to do with a trade deal? Nothing whatsoever. This is not serious diplomacy. It is blackmail. The EU demeans itself.
One would be that the Greek government would thank the British Museum for having looked after them so well since they were removed from the Parthenon
One might add that it is also guilty of gigantic hypocrisy since many museums on the continent are stuffed with artefacts and works of arts that have been looted from innumerable countries over the years.
For example, the magnificent Louvre museum in Paris is bursting with paintings nabbed by Napoleon as he rampaged around Europe. At least Elgin paid for the Marbles.
But in the increasingly chilly atmosphere following our exit from the EU, it appears Brussels is yearning to gang up against Britain. It is making ever more unreasonable demands.
Some divorces end up like this, and it’s sad. The couple insist they still have feelings for one another, and will stay on good terms for the sake of the children. Quite soon one party is issuing nasty threats via lawyers, and everything becomes acrimonious. I’m not going to pretend the British side is without fault.
But the EU seems determined to play hardball, even to the extent of withdrawing (or at any rate drastically modifying) the Canada-style trade deal which it had previously said was on offer.
President Macron of France has been urging Brussels to assume a tougher negotiating stance. A few days ago, Jean-Yves Le Drian, the French foreign minister, said that the EU and UK ‘are going to rip each other apart’ during forthcoming talks.
Boris Johnson is not a version of Mrs May in trousers. They will not be able to roll him over as they did his hapless predecessor
Meanwhile, the Union’s chief negotiators in Brussels conduct themselves with ever greater swagger. They seem not to have grasped how far Boris Johnson’s crushing victory, and the new unity of the Cabinet and Tory Party over Brexit, have transformed political realities.
Remember how last year Michel Barnier and other EU panjandrums would welcome arch-Remainers such as Tory MP Dominic Grieve and the then Lib Dem leader Vince Cable for a subversive chin-wag in Brussels?
Well, they were at it again on Tuesday, this time with Sadiq Khan. London’s lightweight Labour Mayor flew to Brussels to try to persuade the EU to offer ‘associate membership’ to Britons unhappy with Brexit.
As ideas go, this one is on the wilder reaches of daftness. Nonetheless, Mr Barnier gave Mr Khan a sympathetic audience, while Guy Verhofstadt, the European Parliament’s former Brexit coordinator and the originator of the plan, embraced it.
Expect more outrageous demands in addition to the return of the Elgin Marbles and unfettered access to British waters
Don’t they realise that Mr Khan is a political pygmy in his own country who has absolutely no power to bring about such a ludicrous arrangement?
It is as though they believe Britain is still stuck in a political logjam, as it was during the dog days of Theresa May’s prime ministership, when the EU could alternately patronise and belittle her.
If they can’t grasp how enormously things have changed, they have a shock coming to them.
Boris Johnson is not a version of Mrs May in trousers. They will not be able to roll him over as they did his hapless predecessor.
Their bullying over the Elgin Marbles is only one example. Some EU countries, notably France, appear to believe that under the terms of a new trade deal their fishing fleets will continue to enjoy the same access to British waters as a guaranteed right.
But how can this be so, given that the UK will have complete sovereignty over its territorial waters? It will undoubtedly allow EU boats significant access, but this will be on its own conditions, and not a perpetual entitlement.
Equally, the EU evidently believes Britain will have to sign up to all manner of its regulations and standards (including ones to be introduced in the future) in return for a trade deal.
But, as Britain’s chief Brexit negotiator David Frost made clear in a speech earlier this week, such alignment is not consonant with the UK’s restored sovereignty. Our high standards will be our own standards, and not imposed and dictated by the EU.
Some unregenerate Remainers, and not a few European leaders, believe the EU’s huge numerical advantage over the UK will give it the upper hand in talks. The outgoing Irish PM Leo Varadkar recently said as much.
I wouldn’t be so sure. The balance of trade between the EU and the UK greatly favours the former, so the EU has every incentive to come to an agreement. The bloc had a ¤125 billion goods surplus with the UK in 2019, almost two thirds of its entire global surplus.
Expect more outrageous demands in addition to the return of the Elgin Marbles and unfettered access to British waters. Spain will probably assert its claim to Gibraltar, notwithstanding that 99 per cent of the population of the former colony want to stick with Britain.
Will there be a trade deal? Only if EU negotiators realise that Boris Johnson is a pragmatist who will be prepared to compromise, though not beyond certain boundaries. He’s not going to be a pushover.
If this is score-settling time, there won’t be an agreement, and that will damage the UK and EU economies. Maybe I’m an optimist, but it’s hard to believe that in the end Brussels will put the Elgin Marbles before the interests of Europe’s people.