When it comes to sneaking in new clauses, the EU has better form than an insurance company trying to get you to renew your policy. Tonight’s little gem centres on additional wording to the EU trade negotiation mandate, whereby references are made to items that underwent sequestration by British government in the past. Anyone with any knowledge in this regard takes this to mean the Greeks are at it again with demands to have the Elgin Marbles ‘returned’. From The Times:

‘A draft negotiating mandate circulated among European governments in Brussels today hardened EU demands in key traditional trade areas, particularly fishing, but also included the unexpected “return and restitution” line.

“The parties should address issues relating to the return or restitution of unlawfully removed cultural objects to their country of origin,” said newly drafted text that will be signed off by EU governments next week.’

I contend that whoever drafted this clause has no idea what the word ‘unlawfully’ actually means! Lord Elgin (whom that Marbles were named after) had permission from the Ottoman authorities, so they weren’t unlawfully removed at all. “Ah, but the permission was illegitimate because Greece was under Ottoman rule at the time and the latter had no right to rule the country.” That’s as may or may not be, but now we’re getting into the confusion between the words ‘unlawfully’ and ‘illegitimately’,

By contemporary standards, the removal of the Elgin Marbles may (emphasis on ‘may’) have been illegitimate, but it certainly wasn’t unlawful. Anyone can come up with modern theories to substantiate modern values; but to then project them on to past times when the concepts of values, legitimacy and law were very different to what they are now is absurd. It would be both illegitimate and unlawful today to expel convicts to a land 10,000 miles away, which has been inhabited by an indigenous population for some 40,000 years. But that doesn’t make the contemporary state of Australia either illegitimate or illegal, so neither did the sequestration of the Elgin Marbles according to either the law or the concept of legitimacy at the time. In any event, the Elgin Marbles are not owned by the UK Government. They are the property of the British Museum, so I really don’t know what possible interjection the Boris can make even if he was minded to (which he isn’t).

Since our departure a few weeks ago, it’s becoming ever clearer that the EU isn’t interested in a mutually-beneficial trade deal. Its aim is to humiliate this country in any conceivable way possible – whether it concerns our fishing grounds, sovereignty over Gibraltar or artefacts that are part and parcel of our national collection. If the EU really wants to go down this path of petty demands and unrealistic ambitions, then it looks like a WTO conclusion to our transition period.