He cavorted on stage with Elon Musk. But he will not meet the Greek prime minister. Rishi Sunak is so peeved by Kyriakos Mitsotakis’s uppity comments about the Parthenon marbles at the British Museum that he cancelled today’s lunchtime meeting. It’s as if, Mitsotakis said, half the Mona Lisa was in London and the other half in the Louvre.
Fixing Britain’s broken relations with the Europeans was supposed to be Sunak’s forte. Mitsotakis even went to Stanford and spent time at McKinsey. The diplomacy was ripe. Instead, talks on migration, security and cooperation have not happened and the snubbed Greek PM has gone home. Back in 2012, Stephen Fry reportedly said we should return the “marbles as a gesture of solidarity with Greece in its financial distress”. Perhaps the Autumn Statement made Sunak think the roles were reversed.
In any case, Labour is darting around the row. Some media reports suggested Starmer was amenable to the marbles’ return. Now though, Labour sources say the party will make no changes to the laws governing such collections, leaving the matter to the British Museum. The Tories’ plan to ensnare Labour in a battle over preserving Britain’s marbles might not pay off after all.
Unsurprisingly, I do not think the Elgin marbles will supersede the cost-of-living crisis, immigration or the NHS as the issue that will decide the next election. If this is a political strategy, it is a curious one. It’s hard to work out what this government does want to talk about. Just when we thought the battle lines were setting around tax and spend, Sunak surprises.
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