The European Union will demand that Britain gives a collection of ancient marble sculptures back to Greece as part of a post-Brexit trade deal.
Greece has long argued that the Parthenon marbles — also called the Elgin marbles — were unlawfully removed from the Parthenon temple in Athens in the early 19th century by Lord Elgin, a British diplomat.
The marbles — considered among the great works of ancient civilisation — are displayed at the British Museum in London, in a wing custom-built to accommodate them.
However, the Times reported that the EU has included in its draft negotiating guidelines for a trade deal with the UK a commitment to the “return or restitution of unlawfully removed cultural objects to their country of origin.”
Brussels included this clause at Greece’s request.
An ambassador involved in trade talks with Boris Johnson’s UK government told the newspaper: “It is a measure of how Brexit has changed the game that the Greeks feel able to use the trade talks to pursue the Elgin Marbles.”
“This shows a troubling lack of seriousness about the negotiations on the EU side,” they added.
British and EU negotiators will begin talks on a possible free trade deal next month. Both sides aim to reach some sort of agreement by the end of the year, when the 11-month Brexit transition period comes to an end.
The question of which country ought to have Parthenon marbles is just the latest issue in what are set to be a bruising series of negotiations.
David Frost, the UK chief Brexit negotiator, in a speech on Monday warned the EU that the UK would not sign up to EU rules as part of a free trade deal — and would rather walk away without one.
Fishing is also set to be a thorny subject. Johnson’s UK government has pledged to take full control of Britain’s fishing waters as part of Brexit. However, the EU wants European fishing boats to retain access to them.
Jean-Yves Le Drian, France’s foreign minister, on Sunday predicted that UK and EU negotiators would “rip each other apart” once talks begin in March.