Yanis Varoufakis and George Osborne exchange blows over the Elgin Marbles

The Chancellor made a joke at Greece's expense

Jon Stone
Tuesday 19 January 2016 18:16 GMT
Former Syriza finance minister Yanis Varoufakis
Former Syriza finance minister Yanis Varoufakis

Yanis Varoufakis has hit out at George Osborne after the Chancellor made a joke about a contentious marble sculpture taken from Greece to Britain in the 19th century

During an exchange with shadow chancellor John McDonnell in the House of Commons Mr Osborne referenced the fact that Mr Varoufakis would be speaking at a series of events organised by Labour.

“Today he says he is going to tour the country with former Greek finance minister Mr Varoufakis to educate us all about economics. The one thing they’ve got in common is they’ve both lost their marbles,” the chancellor said.

The joke was also a reference to the fact that Mr Varoufakis, the former Greek finance minister, was Greek.

Greece has long demanded the return of the so-called “Elgin Marbles”, a series of marble sculptures taken from the Parthenon in Athens by the Earl of Elgin in the early 1800s.

The marbles, which portray an impressive battle between legendary heroes and centaurs, are held in the British Museum in London.

The peer maintained he had permission to take the sculptures because he had received a permit for local occupying Ottoman Empire officials – whose very presence was resented by many Greeks.

Greece has asked for the return of marbles but the UK has refused to negotiate, despite attempts by the United Nations to mediate the dispute.

The Elgin Marbles were created 2,500 years ago to decorate the Parthenon temple in Athens

Unimpressed with the quip, Mr Varoufakis tweeted: “For your information George, we never lost them – our marbles were stolen!"

Mr Osborne was also criticised for making an apparently derogatory reference to mental health.

Luciana Berger, Labour’s shadow mental health minister, said shortly after the exchange that the comments were inappropriate.

“[I’m] very disappointed to hear George Osborne flippant language on mental health today – it must never be used for political point scoring,” she said in a post on Twitter.

Mr Varoufakis is one of the speakers in a series of seminars organised by Labour. The events will seek to challenge the Government’s economic narrative.

The economist served as the finance minister for Greece's leftist Syriza government during its early negotiations with the country's creditors. He stepped down after the Government accepted many of the creditors' conditions.

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