A Tory minister was roasted this morning over Rishi Sunak’s decision to cancel a meeting with the Greek prime minister over a row about the Elgin Marbles.
The bizarre spat erupted last night after Kyriakos Mitsotakis announced he was cutting short a trip to the UK after being offered a meeting with deputy PM Oliver Dowden instead.
It has since emerged that Sunak was unhappy at comments the Greek premier made about the marbles - also known as the Parthenon Sculptures - on the BBC on Sunday.
The artefacts were brought to Britain in the 19th century after British ambassador Lord Elgin removed them from the Parthenon on the Acropolis in Athens.
They are on permanent display in the British Museum in London, but Greece wants them back.
Mitsotakis told BBC 1′s Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg programme: “It’s as if I told you that you would cut the Mona Lisa in half, and you will have half of it at the Louvre and half of it at the British Museum, do you think your viewers would appreciate the beauty of the painting in such a way?
“Well, this is exactly what happened with the Parthenon Sculptures.”
In a statement last night, the Greek PM said: “I express my annoyance for the fact that the British prime minister cancelled our scheduled meeting just hours before it was due to take place.”
On BBC Breakfast this morning, transport secretary Harper said: “The Greek prime minister was offered a meeting with the deputy prime minister and hasn’t chosen to take that up.
“The prime minister set out clearly what the government’s position is about the Elgin marbles and their part in the British Museum’s permanent collection. That’s what the legal position is and that’s the position we think should stay in place.”
But John Kay told him: “Wouldn’t it be useful for the prime minister at least to speak to the Greek counterpart about it and just have a conversation? It seems a bit weird for the meeting to be cancelled.”
Harper replied: “The deputy prime minister offered to meet the Greek prime minister today and it proved not possible to make that happen. That’s a matter of regret.
“That offer was made, but the government set out its position about the Elgin Marbles very clearly, which is that they should stay as part of the permanent collection of the British Museum.”
The presenter replied: “But you know how diplomacy works, and the Greek prime minister might well think it was a bit rude of the UK prime minister to cancel a meeting when comments were made about some statues that Rishi Sunak didn’t like.”
He added: “It was a snub, wasn’t it?”
But Harper said: “I’ve set out the position, I can keep repeating it. We did offer a meeting with the deputy prime minister, it wasn’t able for that to take place and the prime minister set out the position on the Elgin Marbles very clearly.”