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Britain ‘could be forced to hand over Elgin marbles’ in post-Brexit trade deal

2 min read

Britain could be forced to hand the Elgin Marbles back to Greece as part of the price for a post-Brexit trade deal, it has emerged.

The EU’s draft negotiating mandate includes a demand for the return of “unlawfully removed cultural objects” - prompting fears that the marbles are in Greece’s sights.

But Number 10 said the relics were “not up for discussion” as part of trade talks.

Athens has long campaigned for the return of the sculptures, which were removed from the Parthenon by the Earl of Elgin in the 1800s while Greece was ruled by the Ottoman Empire. 

They were later sold to the Government and now sit in the British Museum. 

While there is no specific mention of the marbles in the EU’s draft negotiating position, Reuters reports that it includes a line on the "return or restitution of unlawfully removed cultural objects to their countries of origin".

And it cites an EU diplomat who said the line was added at the request of Greece with support from Italy.

One EU ambassador who helped draw up the draft told The Times: “It is a measure of how Brexit has changed the game that the Greeks feel able to use the trade talks to pursue the Elgin Marbles.”

Another source said: “London’s auction houses are big traders in ancient and historical artefacts and we want to make sure that if they are stolen they can be returned.”

The comments come after Greek culture minister Lina Mendoni, branded the taking of the marbles a “blatant act of serial theft” that was “motivated by financial gain”.

She said: “I think the right conditions have been created for their permanent return.”

But a government spokesperson said: "The EU are still finalising their mandate - this is currently in draft.

"The UK's position on the Parthenon sculptures remains unchanged - they are legal responsibility of the British Museum.

"That is not up for discussion as part of our trade negotiations."

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