The British Museum will not “shrink in the face of the culture wars,” George Osborne has said.
The former Chancellor of the Exchequer, who took over as chair of the museum in October, made the comments amid ongoing controversy over the repatriation of artefacts stored in the British Museum.
Last month, Greece’s prime minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, demanded the museum return the 2,500-year-old Elgin Marbles “stolen” by the British between 1801 and 1805.
Boris Johnson, in a follow-up meeting with Mr Mitsotakis, said that – while he recognises the “strength of feeling” in Greece – he would not explicitly back the artefacts’ return.
“The Prime Minister reiterated the UK’s longstanding position that this matter is one for the trustees of the British Museum,” his spokesman said at the time.
‘Recognising Britain’s contribution’
Writing in The Times on Saturday, Mr Osborne said the museum was “open” to “lending their artefacts to anywhere who can take good care of them and ensure their safe return”.
On the topic of the British Empire, Mr Osborne added that one risks being called a “nationalistic bigot” for “recognising Britain’s contribution to the spread of democratic ideas and the defeat of fascism”.
He wrote: “We’re leading the work in Benin City to excavate its past and build a museum space to display its beautiful bronzes.
“But nor are we embarrassed or defensive. Almost three centuries on, we remain one of the very few places on earth where you can see the great civilisations of the world side by side.