Rishi Sunak: 'Grandstanding' Greek PM forced me to cancel face-to-face talks

The Elgin Marbles and the diplomatic row between Britain and Greece dominated this week's Prime Minister's Questions - as Jasmine Cameron-Chileshe reports

Rishi Sunak has defended his decision to ditch face-to-face talks with his "grandstanding" Greek counterpart, as the row over the possession of the Elgin Marbles continues to escalate.

The prime minister cancelled a planned meeting with Kyriakos Mitsotakis after the Greek PM went on TV to express his desire to see the Parthenon Sculptures returned to Athens.

Defending the decision before the Commons on Wednesday, Mr Sunak said: “It was clear that the purpose of the meeting was not to discuss substantive issues for the future, but rather to grandstand and relitigate issues of the past."

Keir Starmer says Rishi Sunak tried 'to humiliate' the Greek PM by cancelling talks with him over possession of the Elgin Marbles

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, who met Mr Mistotakis earlier this week, accused Mr Sunak of trying to "humiliate" his Greek counterpart in scrapping the talks at the last minute.

Mr Starmer said they talked about "the economy, security, immigration", before accusing Mr Sunak of "small politics".

"Never mind the British Museum — it’s the prime minister who has obviously lost his marbles," Mr Starmer said.

Responding at Prime Minister's Questions, Mr Sunak told Sir Keir: "Of course, we’re always happy to discuss important topics of substance with our allies, like tackling illegal migration or indeed strengthening our security. “But when it was clear that the purpose of the meeting was not to discuss substantive issues for the future, but rather to grandstand and relitigate issues of the past, it wasn’t appropriate. “But furthermore, when specific commitments and specific assurances on that topic were made to this country, and then were broken, it may seem alien to him but my view is when people make commitments they should keep them.”

Downing Street made clear on Tuesday it had "sought assurances" from Greece that the topic of the Elgin Marbles would be avoided in official talks, and that Mr Mitsotakis would not use his visit as a public platform on which to discuss the artefacts.

The latest escalation comes as Nato's foreign ministers gathered in Brussels, with former prime minister and now foreign secretary Lord Cameron meeting with Greece's foreign minister, Giorgos Gerapetritis.

Mr Gerapetritis said he pushed for the sculptures to be returned to Athens at the summit. "As regards my meeting with Secretary Cameron, once again I would like to say that the Greek government has made a statement concerning the cancellation of the meeting with Prime Minister Sunak," he said. “What I have to say is that the unification of the Parthenon Sculptures is a claim which is based not only on history, not only on justice, but it’s a claim of ecumenical cultural values. “Irrespective of this, it is my understanding that we need to work on a bilateral basis with the UK and we’re going to serve this purpose in the future in order to deepen this long-standing history we have, the two nations.”

The Greek government also suggested Mr Sunak's decision to scrap the talks was politically motivated, with the Conservative Party so far behind in the polls.

A spokesperson for the Greek prime minister cited "domestic reasons" for the cancellation of Tuesday's meeting, but Downing Street denied the claims.

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