George Osborne’s Elgin Marbles deal ‘dangerous’ for Britain’s museums

Elgin marbles - Dan Kitwood/Getty Images
Elgin marbles – Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

George Osborne’s Elgin Marbles deal could set a “dangerous precedent” for Britain’s museums, MPs have warned.

As chairman of the British Museum, the former chancellor has been locked in negotiation with Greece over the return of ancient artworks, with a special deal being discussed with the aim of ending the long-running diplomatic dispute over their future.

Such an agreement could undermine the UK’s museums by setting a “dangerous precedent” that nations campaigning for repatriation may seek to follow, MPs have warned.

The concern comes after a renewed effort by Greece to secure the Elgin Marbles, including a private lobbying initiative backed by a Greek plastic magnate and endorsed by Stephen Fry, which is seeking to gain supporters for repatriation in the UK, including in Parliament.

Parliament itself will monitor these developments, according to Tory MP Tim Loughton, the chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for the British Museum.

He said: “The APPG will meet soon to discuss this but it is a very complex issue with huge international implications.

“The celebrity-backed ‘restitution’ campaign bankrolled by big money seems to want to use priceless treasures of world heritage importance as bargaining chips.

“We must not let our world museums, as custodians of world heritage, be undermined in such a dangerous way.”

New framework for ‘loans’

There is concern among other MPs that the deal currently being devised by Mr Obsorne could offer favourable terms to Greece, which could then simply be demanded by other nations who are seeking to have objects repatriated from the British Museum.

Such a precedent could prove useful for campaigners in Nigeria, who might insist that the same terms be offered for a return of the Benin Bronzes, which the African nation is seeking to obtain from the British Museum.

UK law currently prevents the museum from giving away objects in its collection, but current talks with Greece may provide a new framework for “loans” which are not time-limited, sources have suggested, offering a new option for repatriation campaigners.

The Department for Digital Culture, Media and Sport has said that any loan agreement is an issue for the British Museum’s trustees.

Published by anthonyhayble

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