Parthenon Sculptures should not be given ‘permanently’ to Greece, UK's Culture Secretary warns amid deal speculation

Parthenon Marbles British Museum

The Culture Secretary said she is willing to look at details of a possible loan but claimed permanently returning the artefacts to Greece would ‘open a can of worms’

The Culture Secretary has given her strongest hint that the Government could be willing to allow the Parthenon Marbles to return to Greece on loan.

Michelle Donelan confirmed that she has held talks with George Osborne, chair of the British Museum, about a potential deal with the Greek government but has yet to see any details of such a proposal.

It is the first time the Government has said it would be willing to listen to plans to let the sculptures, known in the UK as the Elgin Marbles, leave the museum to travel to Greece temporarily.

Ms Donelan insisted that she would not agree to handing back the artefacts permanently, telling broadcasters that they “belong in the UK” and that returning them would “open a can of worms”.

It comes after Greek reports emerged last month that Mr Osborne, the former Tory chancellor, was close to agreeing on a deal with the Greek authorities.

Speaking to the News Agents podcast, Ms Donelan suggested she would only be willing to allow the marbles going to Greece on loan.

“Museums are not able to give them back in law permanently, which I completely agree with,” she said.

The British Museum is prevented by law from returning artworks, such as the marbles. Still, speculation has increased recently about a potential deal that would see them loaned out on rotation in return for Greek artefacts that have never been out of the country.

Separately on Wednesday, the Greek prime minister said a deal to get the sculptures back was not imminent.

But Kyriakos Mitsotakis, who is hoping to win a second term in office in July, said: "If the Greek people trust us again, I believe we could achieve this target after the elections."

The Greek culture ministry has previously said the country's "firm position" is that "it does not recognise the British Museum's jurisdiction, possession and ownership of the sculptures".

A spokesperson for the museum said it would not "dismantle" its collection, but that it was "looking at long-term partnerships, which would enable some of our greatest objects to be shared with audiences around the world".

They added: "Discussions with Greece about a Parthenon Partnership are on-going and constructive."