Brexit deal could force British Museum to repatriate Elgin Marbles

The British Museum could lose its marbles over Brexit, following the announcement of a controversial draft document that details a potential trade deal with the EU.

Greece included an “Elgin Marbles clause” in the latest draft revealed in Brussels on Tuesday, raising fears that the museum might have to return the renowned artefacts to Athens.

For the last century some UK officials have fiercely disputed Greece’s claims of repatriation. The Parthenon marbles, also known as the Elgin marbles, are magnificent Classical Greek architectural sculptures that were originally part of the Parthenon temple on the Athenian Acropolis.

In the 19th century, they were transported to Britain by Thomas Bruce, 7th Earl of Elgin who later claimed that he had obtained an official decree authorising the removal. Despite the wealth of archival material that survives from this period, the Greek government were unable to verify Elgin’s claim.

Many protestors argue that the marbles were unlawfully taken 200 years ago and have warmly welcomed Greece’s last-minute addition to the Brexit deal.  “It is the mentality that has changed, the fact that Britain is distancing itself from the European family, it is 200 years since the Greek revolution,” explained Lina Mendoni, the culture minister of Greece. “I think the right conditions have been created for their permanent return.”

But Greek officials have denied allegations stating the clause refers specifically to the Elgin marbles. Instead, both sides say this clause should help fight the illicit trade in antiquities and “address issues relating to the return or restitution of unlawfully removed cultural objects to their countries of origin.”

In a recent statement , a spokeswoman for the British government further rejected the possibility of repatriating the marbles, which “are the legal responsibility of the British Museum,” and “not up for discussion as part of our trade negotiations.

Other EU member countries seized the opportunity to negotiate with Britain about longstanding grievances this week. France pressed for specific conditions on fishing rights and Spain requested that the U.K. forfeit the British territory of Gibraltar in the Mediterranean.

During the Brussels talks, EU negotiator Michel Barnier also rejected demands made by David Frost, the UK’s chief negotiator, for a Canada-style trade agreement.

It remains unclear whether Britain will be forced to hand back the treasured ancient marbles, although several critics of the British Museum have insisted Greece should use them as a “bargaining-chip” whilst the Brexit negotiations continue.


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