George Osborne in 'advanced' talks with Greek PM over return of Parthenon Marbles

A section of the Parthenon Marbles - Matthew Fearn/PA
A section of the Parthenon Marbles - Matthew Fearn/PA

George Osborne, the chair of the British Museum, has been in secret talks with the Greek Prime Minister over the possible return of the Parthenon Marbles, it is understood.

Mr Osborne is said to have been holding meetings with Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis over the past 13 months in a bid to find a solution to the long-running dispute over the ownership of the marbles.

According to the Greek daily newspaper Ta Nea, at least two of the meetings were held at the Greek ambassador's residence in Mayfair. Another one was held as recently as last week at the five-star Berkeley hotel in Knightsbridge.

Mr Osborne is understood to have first visited the ambassador's residence, at 51 Upper Brook Street, in mid-November 2021, to hold “exploratory talks” with Mr Mitsotakis about the fate of the 2,500-year-old sculptures.

Negotiations at 'advanced stage'

Insiders told Ta Nea that negotiations between Mr Osborne and the Greek prime minister are at “an advanced stage”.

A Greek source said. “An agreement is 90 percent complete, but a critical 10 percent remains unresolved. It's hard to get there, but it’s not impossible. Significant progress has been made. We will see in the coming months if that progress is enough to reach an agreement.”

The talks follow an interview given by the then Prime Minister Boris Johnson in which he restated that the Parthenon Marbles “were legally acquired by Lord Elgin under the appropriate laws of the time”.

But Mr Osborne suggested earlier this year that “there is a deal to be done” over the Parthenon Marbles.

The two sides have been discussing a possible “long-term cultural partnership” between the British Museum and Greece that would see the sculptures exhibited in the Acropolis Museum in Athens, with the museum staging rotating exhibitions of Greek treasures never seen before outside Greece.

Possible 'win-win solution'

Following his most recent meeting with Mr Osborne, Prime Minister Mitsotakis said: “A win-win solution can be found that will result in the reunification of the Parthenon Sculptures in Greece, while at the same time taking into account concerns that the British Museum may have.”

The British Museum would neither confirm or deny the meetings had been held, and reiterated it would not dismantle its collection of 17 figures and part of a frieze that decorated the 2,500-year-old Parthenon temple at the Acropolis.

A spokesman for the museum told The Telegraph: “The British Museum has publicly called for a new Parthenon Partnership with Greece and we’ll talk to anyone, including the Greek government about how to take that forward.

“As the Chair of Trustees said last month, we operate within the law and we’re not going to dismantle our great collection as it tells a unique story of our common humanity. But we are seeking new positive, long term partnerships with countries and communities around the world, and that of course includes Greece.”