British people tend to think Elgin Marbles should be returned

William JordanUS Elections Editor
October 18, 2014, 12:19 PM GMT+0

37% want the classical Greek sculptures returned to Athens, while only 23% think they should stay in Britain

Human rights lawyer Amal Alamuddin Clooney has called on Britain to give the Elgin Marbles back to Greece. Ms Clooney argued while visiting Greece that the Athens has “just cause” to ask for the return of the sculptures, echoing remarks by her now-husband, American actor George Clooney. While promoting a film in London earlier this year, George Clooney said it would be “very nice” if Britain sent the sculptures back, adding: "Even in England the polling is in favour of returning the marbles”.

The sculptures, which Lord Elgin removed from the Parthenon in Athens 200 years ago and sold to the British Museum, are also known as the Parthenon Marbles for their original home.

New research by YouGov appears to support Mr Clooney’s claims about public opinion. 37% think the classical Greek sculptures should be returned, which is more than the 23% who favour keeping them in Britain.

Another 32% don’t mind either way, and another 7% don’t know how they feel about it.

Arguments for returning the Elgin Marbles

YouGov also tested some of the arguments that have been made for or against returning the Elgin Marbles to Greece, and found that the arguments “for” tend to be more popular than the arguments “against”.

36% say one of the best arguments for returning the sculptures is that they “are one work of art, and they should be reunited along with the rest of the Parthenon sculptures in Greece”. While the British Museum houses many of the sculptures from the Parthenon, others can be found around the world in places like Paris and Copenhagen.

Another 34% are swayed by the argument that they sculptures belong in Greece due to their importance as a part of Greek cultural heritage.

During her trip to Greece, Amal Clooney spoke about the “injustice” of keeping the priceless artefacts in London. But only 19% of British people find it convincing that they should go back to “their rightful owner” in Athens because they were taken illegally.

Amal Clooney during her visit to Greece. (PA)

Arguments for keeping the Elgin Marbles in Britain

The most popular argument for keeping the sculptures in Britain is the argument that sending them back would set a bad precedent. If Britain has to give these sculptures back, the argument goes, it will throw into doubt the fate of not only other artefacts kept at the British Museum, but also those in museums around the world. 27% rank this among the most convincing arguments for keeping the scuptures in Britain.

23% are also convinced by the argument that there was no injustice in taking the artefacts at all: because the Ottoman Empire permitted Lord Elgin to take the sculptures and the Ottoman Empire was in charge of Greece at the time, it wasn’t illegal for him to take the Marbles at all. Legal experts say this is one reason the Greek government would probably not be able to use international law to get the sculptures back. Another reason they cite comes from a legal principle that means claims can only go back so far in time. This one is less convincing for the general public. Only 9% think it's a good argument that Britain should be able to keep the Elgin Marbles – even if they were taken illegally – just because they were taken 200 years ago.

PA images

See the full poll results