Rishi Sunak’s abrupt cancellation of a scheduled meeting with Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis has sparked widespread criticism, both domestically and internationally.
The cancellation, reportedly in response to Mitsotakis’ comments on the Parthenon Marbles – also called the Elgin Marbles – has not only fuelled tensions over the historical artefacts but has taken a toll on Sunak’s public image.
A survey released on Tuesday indicates that 66 percent of respondents found Downing Street’s decision to cancel the meeting with Mitsotakis “wrong,” while only 11 percent deemed it the right move, suggesting that the majority of the public views Sunak’s actions unfavourably.
Greek government spokesman Pavlos Marinakis condemned Sunak’s decision, stating it was “not only disrespectful to the Greek Prime Minister but also to the Greek people.”
Sunak’s spokesperson dismissed these concerns, further escalating the diplomatic row.
Greek media outlets, including Kathimerini and Ta Nea, weighed in on the situation. Kathimerini suggested the cancellation was strategically timed, coinciding with Mitsotakis’ meeting with Labour leader Keir Starmer.
Ta Nea went as far as to claim that Sunak is “in a political corner” in Britain.
Notably, Greek Foreign Minister Giorgos Gerapetritis expressed disbelief at the cancellation.
He stated: “This is unheard of. It is a massive diplomatic indiscretion. Even Israel and Hamas communicate.”
The root of the dispute lies in Mitsotakis’ recent interview with the BBC, where he reiterated Greece’s stance that the Parthenon Marbles, removed in 1801-1804, should be repatriated.
The marbles, currently housed in the British Museum, have been a source of contention between the two nations for years.
A yougov.co.uk survey revealed that 49 percent of respondents believe it is correct to return the marbles to Greece, while 15 percent prefer them to stay in the UK.
A significant 26 percent expressed disinterest in the matter, with 10 percent claiming uncertainty.
Greek government sources have attributed Sunak’s behaviour to internal UK politics, particularly the upcoming 2024 elections.
Dimitris Tsiodras, director of the Greek Prime Minister’s press office, suggested that Sunak’s move was an attempt to appeal to conservative voters.
In response to the diplomatic fallout, sources from the Greek foreign ministry revealed that British Foreign Minister David Cameron has requested a short meeting with his Greek counterpart, Giorgos Gerapetritis, on the sidelines of the NATO Foreign Ministers’ Summit in Brussels.
While acknowledging a “disagreement in principle” on the marbles’ repatriation, both ministers emphasised the need for cooperation to preserve relations between Greece and the United Kingdom in addressing common challenges.