A SNP MP has called for the Elgin Marbles should be returned to Greece as part of Brexit talks, claiming that it would ‘mark a sea change in how Britain is viewed in the world’.
The Parthenon marbles, which date back to the fifth century BC, were once in the ancient Greek Parthenon temple and other buildings at the Acropolis of Athens but around half were taken to Britain in the early 19th century by staff working for the Earl of Elgin, Thomas Bruce.
Possession of the sculptures has been controversial for more than 200 years and the Acropolis Museum in Athens, which has the remaining sculptures that were left in Greece, has left space empty for their return as part of its display.
They are currently based in the British Museum in London, but a leaked draft of Brussels’ negotiation mandate had reportedly included a stipulation that Britain should “return unlawfully removed cultural objects to their countries of origin”.
Margaret Ferrier told MPs that the marbles that if the UK returned them “it could indicate that Britain is willing to ditch the colonial mindset for good”.
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She said: “Brexit also reveals the delusions of grandeur of this Tory government, as it will expose the power imbalance we face in the negotiations with the EU27.
“The EU’s own negotiating mandates contained an additional clause calling on both parties in the negotiation to address issues relating to the return or restitution of unlawfully removed cultural objects to their country of origin.
“It is utterly apparent to me that Brexit will fuel demands for Britain to return the Elgin Marbles.
“The calls for the Elgin Marbles’ return to Greece may prove irresistible as negotiations drag on throughout this year.
“Whether by intention or by accident, the UK Government may well lose its marbles much sooner than any of us have anticipated.”
Responding to a Commons debate, culture minister Caroline Dinenage said the UK government would remain firm on its position.
She said: “The UK’s position on that remains unchanged. The Parthenon sculptures are the legal responsibility of the British Museum.
“This is not up for discussion as part of our trade negotiations.”