EU-UK Ties ‘Can Only Get Better’ Under Labour, Greek PM Says

(Bloomberg) -- In the UK’s relations with the European Union, there’s nowhere to go but up, according to Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis.

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“Things can only get better,” Mitsotakis said with a wry smile, evidently aware that a song with that title was the Labour party’s anthem in 1997, when its leader Tony Blair won by a landslide.

The quip represents a fresh chapter in the chilly relations between Mitsotakis and British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak. While both were from center-right politicians, they failed to get along.

Relations hit a low in November following a spat over the Parthenon marbles. An effort to resolve the decades-long debate over their ownership fell apart and led to the cancellation of a scheduled meeting between the two premiers in London. That sparked a series of heated statements, mainly from Sunak’s side. The two men haven’t met since.

The sculptures, known as the Elgin Marbles, are currently housed in London’s British Museum and both countries claim them as their own. In recent years, the two sides had been close to resolving the dispute by brokering an arrangement whereby they could be seen in Athens, from where they were taken by British diplomat Lord Elgin in the early 19th century.

The Greek center-right politician did speak at the time of the dispute with Labour leader Keir Starmer, who is the favored in the polls to become prime minister after the July 4 national elections.

“I’ve met the Labour leader, and I think he seems interested in a more constructive relationship with the EU,” Mitsotakis said on Wednesday, speaking to Bloomberg News in his office in Athens.

While Starmer has ruled out putting Britain on a path to rejoining the European Union or its single market, he’s repeatedly said there’s a case to forging a closer trading relationship with the bloc, which in 2023 accounted for 41% of UK exports of goods and services and 52% of imports.

Despite the row over the Parthenon marbles, the EU’s relations with the UK have improved under Sunak. The prime minister struck a deal with the bloc over Northern Ireland last year — one of the last major hangovers of Brexit.

Starmer though wants to go much further to repair relations. Labour has promised a veterinary agreement to end border checks on food and plant products between the UK and EU, as well as a bespoke security pact with the bloc, covering defense, foreign policy, economic and climate security.

And Labour has indicated that Starmer won’t stand in the way of a deal to return the sculptures to Greek custody.

--With assistance from Ellen Milligan and Jacqueline Simmons.

(Adds context in third paragraph.)

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