Why King Charles's tie at Cop28 in Dubai is raising eyebrows in the UK

Many in Greece see the king's choice of neckwear as a sign of support amid a diplomatic spat with the UK government

King Charles III at Cop28 in Dubai. AP
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A tie adorned with a pattern of Greek flags worn by King Charles III on the opening day of Cop28 in Dubai on Thursday has raised some eyebrows in the UK.

The British monarch's choice of neckwear, which was complemented by a matching blue-and-white pocket handkerchief, has been interpreted by many in Greece as a gesture of solidarity with their cause.

The governments of Greece and the UK are currently embroiled in a diplomatic spat over ownership of the Parthenon Marbles.

On Monday, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, who was due to meet Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis to discuss the disputed sculptures, called off the meeting hours before it was due to start. The cancellation came after Mitsotakis told the BBC the sculptures should be returned, saying that having some in London and the rest in Athens was like cutting the Mona Lisa in half.

Sunak accused the Greek leader of seeking to “grandstand” and breaking a promise not to publicly campaign for the return of the ancient sculptures, which were taken from the Parthenon in Athens two centuries ago and now reside in the British Museum.

The Greek government denies Mitsotakis agreed not to lobby for the return of the marbles during the visit, and rejected an offer to meet UK Deputy Prime Minister Oliver Dowden instead.

What are the Parthenon Marbles?

Also known as Elgin Marbles, the Parthenon Marbles were originally part of the Parthenon in Athens.

Lord Elgin, a Scottish nobleman, removed them from the ancient Acropolis in 1801 and subsequently sold them to the British government in 1816.

Their removal occurred during the Ottoman occupation of Greece, a period marked by the deterioration of the Parthenon.

Lord Elgin, who was British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire at the time, obtained special permission from the sultan, which he interpreted as authorisation to dismantle and export the Marbles.

Despite controversies regarding this interpretation, the Marbles were transported to England and eventually sold to the British Museum in 1816 for £35,000 ($43, 430) after Lord Elgin ran into financial difficulties.

These sculptures have been a centrepiece of the British Museum's Greek galleries ever since, despite continuing debates and calls for their restitution to Greece.

The British Museum maintains the legality of the acquisition, while critics view the situation as emblematic of British imperialism.

The issue remains unresolved, with the British government and the museum rejecting international calls and recommendations for their return to Greece.

The British Museum is banned by law from giving the sculptures back to Greece, but its leaders have held talks with Greek officials about a compromise, such as a long-term loan.

The chair of the museum's Board of Trustees, George Osborne, accused Sunak of throwing a “hissy fit” over the antiquities and said those negotiations would continue.

Sunak brushed off the remark and said the Marbles could not be loaned unless Greece acknowledged Britain’s “lawful ownership", something the government in Athens is reluctant to do.

What does King Charles's tie have to do with this?

President Sheikh Mohamed meets King Charles during Cop28

President Sheikh Mohamed meets King Charles during Cop28

The British monarch is meant to be above politics, but many in Greece see his choice of tie as a sign of support.

The king’s late father, Prince Philip, was born into the Greek royal family, and Charles has deep ties to the country.

Buckingham Palace declined to comment on the king’s neckwear. But officials pointed out that King Charles has worn the tie before, as recently as last week.

On the opening day of Cop28, King Charles was one of the featured speakers, and he also met world leaders, including Prime Minister Sunak.

– Agencies contributed to this report

Updated: December 03, 2023, 7:52 AM