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King Charles wears Greek flag tie as he meets Rishi Sunak after Elgin Marbles row

Monarch appears to offer gesture of goodwill to Athens – as PM denies ‘hissy fit’ in diplomatic row

Adam Forrest
Political Correspondent
Friday 01 December 2023 19:44 GMT
King Charles prays Cop28 will be ‘critical turning point’ for climate change

King Charles has worn a Greek tie to Cop28, just days after Rishi Sunak’s spat with Athens over the Elgin Marbles.

The PM has denied throwing a “hissy fit” after he scrapped a planned meeting with the Greek PM, accusing Kyriakos Mitsotakis of “grandstanding” about the return of the sculptures.

It seems Charles may have decided to enter the political controversy by sporting the blue and white tie and handkerchief on Friday.

The pattern in the monarch’s tie showed both the colours of the Greek flag and its distinctive cross, symbolising Eastern Orthodox Christianity.

But Buckingham Palace suggested the Greek flag-coloured tie was a random choice by the King. Royal sources pointed out that Charles also wore the tie when he met South Korean leaders last week.

Charles’s father Prince Philip was born in Greece into the Greek royal family, and the King has spoken about his enduring affection for the country.

The gesture in Dubai, which some have perceived as a snub to the PM, recalls the controversy over the Queen’s blue and yellow outfit at the 2017 state opening of parliament – seen as a gesture of goodwill to the EU after the Brexit referendum.

However, the Queen’s dresser Angela Kelly later insisted that the colours were merely a coincidence and had been overinterpretated in the heated days after the divisive vote.

The Greek media saw the choice of tie as Charles offering backing for their country in the antiquities row. “The diplomacy of the tie has spoken,” said Lifo magazine. Proto Therma said the move “could well be interpreted as a show of support for our country”.

King Charles III speaks with Rishi Sunak at the opening ceremony of the World Climate Action Summit at Cop28 in Dubai (PA)

Charles’s choice of tie comes after Mr Sunak parked a diplomatic row by controversially snubbing Mr Mitsotakis during his visit to London. The Greek leader compared the artefacts’ removal and presence in the British Museum to cutting the Mona Lisa in half.

No 10 claimed Mr Mitsotakis had reneged on a promise not to discuss the centuries-old dispute over what are now known as the Parthenon Sculptures, with the Tory leader using PMQs to accuse the Greek PM of “grandstanding”.

Former Tory chancellor George Osborne – who is the chair of the British Museum – said Mr Sunak may have thrown a “hissy fit” because the Greek PM  chose to meet Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer first.

Mr Osborne has been talking with the Greek government about a potential arrangement which would allow the sculptures to be displayed in Greece.

“Is it just petulance? Is it just having a bit of a hissy fit?” said Mr Osborne on his Political Currency podcast. “And, I think, if that’s the reason, it’s not because Mitsotakis was going to raise the Elgin Marbles. It’s because he had met Keir Starmer the day before,” he said.

Asked whether the former chancellor was right about a “hissy fit”, Mr Sunak told journalists at Cop28: “No, no. I think I’ve said everything I’ve got to say on this in parliament the other day.”

The royal tie, worn at Cop28 summit on Friday (PA)

The Tory leader also hinted that a loan arrangement could be impossible due to Greece’s current stance. “Our position is very clear – as a matter of law, the marbles can’t be returned and we’ve been unequivocal about that,” he said.

“And I think the British Museum’s website itself says that in order for the loans to happen the recipient needs to acknowledge the lawful ownership of the country that’s lending the things.”

Mr Sunak added: “And I think the Greeks have not suggested that they are in any way shape or form willing to do that. Our view and our position on that is crystal clear: the marbles were acquired legally at the time.”

Greece has long demanded the return of the historic works, which were removed by Lord Elgin from occupied Athens in the early 19th century when he was the British ambassador to the Ottoman empire.

The 1963 British Museum Act prohibits the removal of objects from the institution’s collection, a position in law that Mr Osborne said would ensure Greece would have to return the sculptures following any exchange.

But the Tory grandee said on Thursday that it was clear from events this week that Mr Sunak’s government would not support an exchange.

Some Tory MPs have criticised Mr Sunak’s apparent own goal – which saw him plastered across Greek front pages this week, including one carrying the words “F*** you b******”.

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