Rishi Sunak has not only triggered a diplomatic row after cancelling a meeting with his Greek counterpart over the Elgin Marbles but he’s being rinsed on social media for it, too.
The UK prime minister reportedly called off the Tuesday lunchtime meeting with Kyriakos Mitsotakis just hours before it was meant to take place.
The decision came shortly after the Greek PM repeated his government’s long-standing policy – that the Elgin Marbles need to be returned to Greece – during a BBC interview on Sunday.
A senior Conservative source told the BBC that the meeting was “impossible” after Mitsotakis publicly commented on the marbles, suggesting that went against a previous agreement between Greece and the UK.
Mitsotakis said he was “deeply disappointed” by the abrupt change in plans, and then refused to attend an alternative meeting with the deputy PM Oliver Dowden.
Mitsotakis did manage to squeeze in a meeting with Labour leader Keir Starmer before the row with Sunak unfolded.
Also known as the Parthenon Sculptures, the famous statues are currently held in the British Museum.
The UK says handing them back would be a breach of a 1936 law which prevents objects being removed from the institution.
The PM’s spokesperson said: “There are no plans to change our approach, we believe the museum is the right place for them. He has been fairly robust on his position. We have cared for the marbles for generations and we want that to continue.”
But, Greece argues that, as the marbles were taken from a 2,500-year-old temple in Athens in the early 19th Century by British soldier and diplomat Lord Elgin, they ought to be returned to their rightful home.
Social media has not been sympathetic to Sunak’s side of the story, with many criticising his last-minute rescheduling.
Some on X (formerly Twitter) even compared the PM to the rather disaster-prone businessman Kendall Roy from Succession....
Big fan of Sunak’s absolute and utter inability to avoid looking like a petulant rich boy who’s not used to accommodating anybody else. He exists in a sort of perma-sulk. It’s like having the country run by Kendall Roy. https://t.co/baaoCVxi3t
— @email@example.com (@mrchrisaddison) November 28, 2023
To be fair to Sunak, if he passed a law to say it was acceptable to cancel a work meeting if it was with someone irritating he would win a landslide at an election.
— Peter Smith (@Redpeter99) November 28, 2023
“We have cared for the marbles for generations and we want that to continue.”
Sounds a bit like “I cleaned your laptop and everything. So there’s no way I’m giving it back.” https://t.co/art3idJYlK
— Mike Galsworthy (@mikegalsworthy) November 28, 2023
Sunak : I'm absolutely determined to do everything to deal with illegal immigration!
Also Sunak : I'm cancelling lunch today with the PM of one of the countries we most need to collaborate with on this international issue because I'm in a huff over a 2.500 yr old marble frieze🤡 pic.twitter.com/rIYYAExRIf
— Alex Taylor (@AlexTaylorNews) November 28, 2023
A) We should obviously give back the Elgin Marbles to Greece.
B) Rishi Sunak cancelling his meeting with the Greek PM embarrasses Britain and shows him to be the weak leader he is.
— Matthew Stadlen (@MatthewStadlen) November 28, 2023
A pathetic display of petulance by Sunak that will surely only strengthen public support for sending the Parthenon Marbles back to Greece where they belong. https://t.co/CAfy6Bh9aw
— Simon Nixon (@Simon_Nixon) November 27, 2023
Increasingly clear that Sunak's biggest weakness as a politician is petulance. Comes across in every interview. https://t.co/JA4Uh0cbW2
— Sam Freedman (@Samfr) November 27, 2023
Being a consumate international statesman, I thought the best way to deal with comments about the Elgin Marbles by the Greek PM was to throw my toys out of the pram and stamp my feet. But I am NOT TETCHY!!
— Parody Rishi Sunak (@Parody_PM) November 28, 2023
BREAKING: Rishi Sunak is refusing to meet with me because I called him titch.
— Larry the Cat (@Number10cat) November 28, 2023
If Rishi Sunak wanted to look strong over the Elgin Marbles, couldn’t he just have met the Greek prime minister and said they couldn’t have them back?
— Tom Hamilton (@thhamilton) November 28, 2023
it makes a huge amount of sense for unelected Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to defend the Elgin Marbles, as they’re also something which shouldn’t be living where they are
— Toby Earle 🇺🇦 Threads tobyontv (@TobyonTV) November 28, 2023
Useful guide to world leaders planning future meetings with Rishi Sunak - your meeting may be cancelled at short notice if you publicly express your government’s longstanding policy, if it’s not to Sunak’s liking https://t.co/YOfZJ6k087
— George Parker (@GeorgeWParker) November 28, 2023