A diplomatic row has broken out between the British and Greek governments over the Elgin Marbles.
The Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis was due to meet Rishi Sunak in London, but No 10 cancelled the meeting at the last minute.
A spokesman for the Greek prime minister told the BBC that he was “disappointed” the meeting had been cancelled “at the 11th hour”.
Mr Mitsotakis rejected an alternative meeting with the deputy prime minister.
The cancellation came the day after Mr Mitsotakis told the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg that the marbles should be returned.
The marbles, also known as the Parthenon Sculptures, are ancient Greek treasures in the British Museum brought to the UK by the British diplomat Lord Elgin in the early 19th Century.
A spokesman for the Office of the Greek Prime Minister told the BBC: “The prime minister is disappointed that Prime Minister Sunak cancelled their bilateral meeting at the 11th hour today.”
“Greece and Britain have a very deep history of friendship and cooperation, and the Greek government is extremely surprised by this decision.
“The prime minister was looking forward to discussing a range of topics of mutual interest including the Israel-Gaza conflict, Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine, climate change, as well as common challenges such as migration, and of course the Parthenon Sculptures.”
Sources with knowledge of the mood in the Greek government said Mr Mitsotakis was “baffled” and “annoyed”.
The meeting had been due to happen at lunchtime on Tuesday and, the BBC understands, was due to last 45 minutes.
But Mr Mitsotakis’s appearance on the the BBC’s Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg programme had irritated Rishi Sunak.
The Greek prime minister said the Elgin Marbles ought to be returned, as having some of the artefacts in London and the rest in Athens was like cutting the Mona Lisa in half.
The British government confirmed the cancellation and offered the Greek PM a meeting with Deputy Prime Minister Oliver Dowden instead.
A senior Conservative source said: “It became impossible for this meeting to go ahead following commentary regarding the Elgin marbles prior to it.
“Our position is clear – the Elgin Marbles are part of the permanent collection of the British Museum and belong here. It is reckless for any British politician to suggest that this is subject to negotiation.”
Mr Mitsotakis met the Labour leader Keir Starmer earlier.
He will now return to Greece on Tuesday after his scheduled meetings in the morning – declining the meeting with Mr Dowden.__bbc.com