Boris Johnson told his Greek counterpart that he understood the “emotional strength” of the Parthenon marble issue, but repeatedly stated that the issue was in the British Museum.
Downing Street said Greek Prime Minister Kiriakos Mitsutakis raised the issue of ancient sculpture when he met Mr Johnson in London on Tuesday.
The 17 figures were photographed by Sir Elgin, the British ambassador of the Ottoman Empire, in the early 19th century and have been the subject of long-standing controversy.
Johnson claimed that they were “legally acquired” and legitimately owned by the British Museum, while the Greek Prime Minister claims that they were “stolen” from Athens.
Johnson said on Tuesday that the issue was “for the British Museum’s councilors.”
A spokeswoman for No. 10 agreed that the issue “never affects the strength of the UK-Greece partnership.”
She said the two leaders also discussed issues, including the Northern Ireland Protocol after Brexit.
“Finally, Prime Minister Mitsutakis raised the issue of sculpture in the Parthenon,” she said.
“The Prime Minister said he understands the strength of the Greek people’s sentiment towards the issue, but reiterated Britain’s long-standing position that the issue was for the British Museum’s councilors.
“The leaders agreed that this issue would never affect the strength of the partnership between Britain and Greece.”
The British Museum claims that placing some sculptures in London has “positive benefits and public interests.”