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UK refuses to include Elgin marbles in Brexit trade talks after EU negotiation draft leak

‘They are the legal responsibility of the British Museum,’ says Downing Street

Jon Sharman
Wednesday 19 February 2020 12:21 GMT
Brexit briefing: How long until the end of the transition period?

The return to Greece of marble sculptures from the Parthenon will not be discussed during Brexit negotiations, the government has said, after a leaked draft document suggested the EU would insist on “cultural objects” forming part of a divorce deal.

A leaked draft of Brussels’ negotiating mandate had reportedly included a stipulation that Britain should “return unlawfully removed cultural objects to their countries of origin” – believed to be a reference to the so-called Elgin marbles.

The ancient Greek artefacts are housed in the British Museum. Part of an extensive set of sculptures that adorned the Parthenon temple and other buildings on the Acropolis in Athens, the 500BC marbles were brought to the UK by Lord Elgin in the early-19th-century.

The peer said at the time that he had received permission from the Ottoman Empire, which then occupied Greece, to transport the items.

A government spokeswoman ruled out any discussion of the marbles’ repatriation during trade talks that are to begin in March.

She 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 the legal responsibility of the British Museum. That is not up for discussion as part of our trade negotiations.”

The Guardian reported that the proposition had been argued for by Italy, Spain, Cyprus and Greece, but was about a desire to stop the fraudulent movement of antiquities around Europe rather than a direct reference to the marbles.

It came as a cross-Channel row erupted over whether the UK will sign up to a “level playing field” on regulations in any future trade deal with the EU.

Boris Johnson’s top negotiator, David Frost, said in a high-profile speech that it would be “undemocratic” for the bloc to insist on such a move, adding that the ability for Britain to diverge from EU rules was the main point of Brexit.

Michel Barnier, Mr Frost’s opposite number, noted that the PM had personally approved the idea of “robust” level playing field arrangements in the political declaration he agreed some months ago.

Additional reporting by Press Association

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