Jeremy Corbyn would give the Elgin Marbles back to Greece if he became prime minister, a Greek newspaper has quoted him as saying.
The Labour leader told Ta Nea “the Parthenon sculptures belong to Greece” when asked whether he would consider returning the carved figures and stele.
The Parthenon sculptures, as they are also called, have been housed in the British Museum since 1816 after they were bought by the government from Lord Elgin.
While Greece has long campaigned for their repatriation, opponents say to do so would open the door to requests from dozens of other countries for artworks in British museums to returned.
The centre-left leaning Ta Nea says it interviewed Mr Corbyn about several topics, including Brexit, Greek debt, the media and the marbles.
In translated Greek, it says: “In the exclusive interview given to Nea, Jeremy Corbyn agrees that, if elected, he will begin the return of the Parthenon sculptures to our country. ‘The Parthenon sculptures belong to Greece,’ he says without turning.”
It adds that Mr Corbyn continued: “They were made in Greece and have been there for many centuries until Lord Elgin took them.
“As with everything stolen or removed from a country that was in the possession or colony – including objects looted from other countries in the past – we should also begin constructive talks with the Greek government on the return of the sculptures.”
Mr Corbyn has long been a supporter of the marbles’ repatriation, speaking on the issue in parliament in 2014 during one of the many debates there has been on the issue.
The sculptures, which used to adorn the Parthenon at the top of the Acropolis in Athens, were removed by Elgin between 1799 and 1810 after he obtained permission from officials of the Ottoman empire, which ruled Greece at the time.
Elgin claimed at the time that he was worried about damage being done to the marbles, but their removal sparked much controversy, with critics including Lord Byron.
In recent years, Greece’s government has made a formal request for the sculptures’ return and has proposed other solutions, including considering legal action.
According to a House of Commons briefing paper from June 2017, the UK government’s position “continues to be that ‘issues relating to the ownership and management of the Parthenon sculptures are matters for the trustees of the British Museum’.”
According to the British Museum: “The trustees hold the whole of the British Museum collection under the terms of the British Museum Act 1963, for the benefit of the public.
“This legislation prohibits the trustees from permanently disposing of objects unless they are duplicates of others already in the collection or are ‘unfit to be retained … and can be disposed of without detriment to the interests of students’.”
Sky News has approached Labour for a comment.