Sunak seeks to draw line under Elgin Marbles row
Rishi Sunak’s cancellation of a meeting with the Greek prime minister triggered a diplomatic spat.
Rishi Sunak has attempted to draw a line under the Elgin Marbles row, a day after accusing the Greek prime minister of grandstanding over the issue.
The Prime Minister insisted he was focusing on issues that mattered to voters and refused to say more on the row which has soured relations with an international ally.
Mr Sunak cancelled a planned meeting with Kyriakos Mitsotakis following his Greek counterpart’s push for the Parthenon Sculptures to be returned from the British Museum to Athens.
Defending his actions in the Commons on Wednesday, the Prime Minister said: “It was clear that the purpose of the meeting was not to discuss substantive issues for the future, but rather to grandstand and relitigate issues of the past.”
On a visit to Guildford on Thursday, Mr Sunak was pushed on whether the subject was worth a diplomatic row – or whether he was just seeking to create a wedge issue with Labour.
“I addressed this in Parliament yesterday,” he said.
Instead, Mr Sunak said, he was “focusing on the things that really matter to people”.
He added that he would be talking to “dozens of world leaders” at the Cop28 climate summit “about the issues that really matter – international security, supporting Ukraine, the situation in the Middle East, tackling illegal migration, or indeed climate change”.
Meanwhile, security minister Tom Tugendhat declined to say whether Mr Sunak was right to cancel the meeting with his Greek opposite number.
“Look, I think my own view is that the Prime Minister had to make a decision,” Mr Tugendhat said.
“He’s got many, many calls on his time, and prioritising is a very difficult thing to do in Number 10.”
He told Sky News Mr Mitsotakis had “his own domestic politics” so “of course he is going to make comments like that”, in relation to his call for the Parthenon Sculptures to be reunited in Athens.
The prime ministers’ teams “spend weeks before a meeting like this deciding what they’re going to talk about”.
“And you get to a point where, if you haven’t agreed what you’re going to talk about, frankly, maybe the meeting is not worth having.”