Culture secretary Michelle Donelan says Elgin Marbles ‘belong in UK’

The Elgin Marbles - also known as the Parthenon Marbles - “belong here in the UK”, the culture secretary Michelle Donelan has said, with talks over their return to Greece said to be at an advanced stage.

Michelle Donelan culture secretary marbles

The ancient sculptures are currently housed in the British Museum, where they have stayed since the museum acquired them in 1816.

The museum’s chairman, and former chancellor of the exchequer, George Osborne, is reported to be close to agreeing a deal with Greece.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s The Media Show, Donelan said that permanently returning the marbles was “not [Osborne’s] intention”. The pair have had “several conversations”, according to Donelan, who said the former chancellor’s “view on this has been misinterpreted and certainly portrayed wrongly.”

Part of the Elgin Marbles Parthenon Marbles

“He’s not about to send them back, basically. That’s not his intention. He has no desire to do that. There’s also been this concept of a 100-year loan mooted as well, which is certainly not what he’s planning either.

“He would agree with me that we shouldn’t be sending them back, and actually they do belong here in the UK, where we’ve cared for them for a great deal of time, where we’ve allowed access to them.”

Donelan further said that returning the sculptures to Greece would “open a can of worms”, be a “dangerous road to go down” and “open the gateway to the question of the entire contents of our museums”.

The marbles, which have become one of the most highly-publicised questions of cultural restitution, first decorated the Parthenon in Athens. They were removed in the 19th Century by Lord Elgin, the British diplomat to the Ottoman Empire who ruled Athens at the time. 

At present, UK law prevents the British Museum from returning the artworks to Greece on a permanent basis. 

Speaking separately today, Greek prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis also revealed that a deal to return the sculptures was not imminent. It’s unclear how political this move is, however, as Mitsotakis is currently seeking re-election and said in July: “If the Greek people trust us again, I believe we could achieve this target after the elections.”

Elgin-Marbles-British-Museum-Western frieze

Western frieze, II, 2

The Greek culture ministry has held firm in its stance that “it does not recognise the British Museum’s jurisdiction, possession and ownership of the sculptures”.

A spokesperson for the British Museum said it was “looking at long-term partnerships, which would enable some of our greatest objects to be shared with audiences around the world.

“Discussions with Greece about a Parthenon Partnership are ongoing and constructive.”

Also today, Donelan spoke about Jeremy Clarkson’s controversial comments on Meghan Markle. You find a clip to that, below.

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