Britain’s ownership of the Parthenon Marbles may be the latest casualty in the Brexit trade negotiations, according to a new clause in the European Union’s negotiating mandate. The clause, which was included as early as last week at the request of Greek officials, stipulates that for the United Kingdom to continue trading with the EU, the British government must “address issues relating to the return or restitution of unlawfully removed cultural objects to their countries of origin.” Officials from both countries have interpreted the legislation as a direct reference to the classical Greek marble works known alternatively as the Parthenon Marbles or the Elgin Marbles, which currently reside at the British Museum in London, although Bloomberg reports that a Greek official said the clause refers more broadly to stolen paintings that turn up in London auctions.
The marbles, which were taken from the Parthenon in Athens in the early 19th century by the visiting Earl of Elgin, have been a source of conflict between the two countries for decades, with the British government steadfastly refusing any attempts at repatriation. Greek officials are hopeful about this attempt, though. Last month, the Greek culture minister Lina Mendoni told Reuters that “the right conditions have been created for their permanent return,” due to Britain’s attempts to distance itself from the rest of Europe.
The Elgin Marbles are the latest example of the Brexit trade negotiations being used as a way for countries to air their grievances with the U.K. Spain has asked the country to forfeit the territory of Gibraltar, located at the tip of the Iberian peninsula, and France has demanded updated conditions on fishing rights.
A spokeswoman for the British government has said that the UK has no plans to return the marbles, according to ARTnews. The statement said the sculptures are “the legal responsibility of the British Museum,” and their ownership is not up for discussion.