UK has ‘no plans’ to return Elgin Marbles to Greece, says Rishi Sunak

LONDON — The Elgin Marbles remain a “huge asset” to the U.K. and there are “no plans” to change the law so they can be returned to Greece, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said Monday.

The marble sculptures were controversially removed from Athens in the 19th century and have been held at the British Museum since then.

But campaigners have for years called for their return to Greece, and talks between the museum and Greek officials have been held in recent months to discuss a potential loan arrangement.

The dispute is complicated by the 1963 British Museum Act, which still governs the institution and imposes strict curbs on sales, exchanges and disposals of objects in its care.

Speaking to reporters during a trip to San Diego, Sunak appeared to stake out a position against a change in the law to ease relocation of the marbles.

Sunak said the U.K. had “cared for the Elgin Marbles for generations.”

And he added: “Our galleries and museums are funded by taxpayers because they are a huge asset to this country. We share their treasures with the world, and the world comes to the U.K. to see them.

“The collection of the British Museum is protected by law, and we have no plans to change it.”

Campaign group the Parthenon Project — which is chaired by former U.K. Conservative Cabinet minister Ed Vaizey — argued this weekend that it believed a return of the marbles to Greece may be possible even if the ultimate dispute over ownership of the objects cannot be resolved.