Why did Sunak create such a fuss over Greece's Parthenon sculptures?

Workers' Fight workplace bulletin editorials
29 November 2023

It's unprecedented that a British Prime Minister should suddenly cancel a meeting with another country's PM, with whom he’d scheduled a meeting!

    In fact the right-wing Greek PM Kyriakos Mitsotakis didn't even get a chance to "break" Sunak's ban on raising the issue of the Parthenon Sculptures.  The door of Number 10 was rudely slammed in his face for merely answering questions about them in a TV interview!  So now the BBC's “Laura Kuenssberg on Sunday” qualifies as a PM stand-in?  Why not, indeed!

    The media is dismissing this as a trivial issue which "nobody cares about".  But the Parthenon in Athens represents the shared ancient history of all of us.  In that sense, restoring it properly is important.  However, refusing the return of its sculptures has been a way for British politicians to "grandstand" over their ownership, ever since Lord Elgin nicked them during his travels, 200 years ago.  And even in those days, eminent political figures like the poet Lord Byron, said they belonged back in Greece!  So now Sunak has decided to make his own stand, as if it should be up to him, rather than the British Museum!

    What Sunak hopes to gain out of being "tough" over this issue is not entirely clear.  After former Home Secretary Braverman's visit to Greece on 4 November to see how its Coastguard dealt with refugees, his meeting with Greece’s PM was expected to provide a follow-up on the issue of migration.  And especially so, given the government’s flagship Rwanda deportation policy has been declared unlawful.

    During her visit, Braverman heaped praise on the Greek government's "tough measures" and the Coastguard's "push-back tactics" against refugees.  At the time, the press failed to recall how, just a few months beforehand, this same Coastguard was implicated in the sinking of a boat carrying 700 refugees and the drowning of 600 mainly women and children, when it tried to tow it out of Greek waters, rather than rescue them.

    Yes, that is the kind of "toughness" against refugees which Braverman admires.  So, is this what her successor, James Cleverly, will be told to consider?  If so, it would not be too surprising.  “Small stuff” Sunak is trying his utmost to act "big stuff", to try and win back right-wing voters who've been deserting the Tories, not just to Labour, but also the new incarnation of UKIP, Nigel Farage’s Reform UK.

    Of course, the real problem in this country is not too many immigrants, but too few: of the 745,000 who came over on visas in the past year, 378,000 are students and their dependents.  So to prevent the NHS from collapsing this winter, among other services in desperate need, many more immigrant workers (and refugees) are needed.  And by the way, opening the borders to allow them all in, would stop the small boats crossing the Channel, in an instant.