British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced in an interview published on Friday the return of the Parthenon Marbles to Greece, insisting that the artifacts had been legally acquired by Britain.
Johnson told the Greek newspaper Ta Naya, “The British government has a stable and long-standing position on the statues: they were legally acquired by Lord Elgin.”
He insisted that the 2500-year-old statues, known as the Elgin Marbles, “have been legally owned by the trustees of the British Museum since the acquisition.”
The statues are the subject of a long-running dispute between the two countries.
He was snatched from the Parthenon Temple in Athens and sent to Britain in the early 1800s by Thomas Bruce, a Scottish nobleman known as Lord Elgin.
Elgin sold the Marbles to the British Government, who in 1817 sent them to the British Museum, where he remained one of its most priests.
Johnson claims that the statues belong to Britain as Greece read on March 25 for a two-year commemoration of the country’s 1821 revolution.
To mark the occasion, Prime Minister Kiriakos Mitsotakis requested temporary repatriation of the sculptures in exchange for the artifacts, saying he had never left Greece before.
Johnson, who vacationed regularly in his father’s home in Greece, said that when he understood the strong feelings of the Greeks and Mitsutakis, he would not be returned.
Britain has long argued that the statues were taken by Lord Elgin with the permission of the Ottoman Turks who ruled Greece at the time, but Athens said the stones were stolen.
Ta Naya said that Johnson’s remarks marked the first time he had spoken on the subject as prime minister.
But his position on the issue was made clear many years ago when, as mayor of London, he hit back at Hollywood star George Clooney for suggesting his move back to Britain.
Athens, which has retreated from the grounds of celebrities on the issue, has said for years that it does not wish to pursue legal action to settle the bitter dispute.
It has called on the UN cultural agency of the United Nations to act as an intermediary, a proposal rejected by the British Museum.
Greek Culture Minister Lina Mendoni reiterated last year that the stones were stolen and should be returned to Athens.