The 1995 Unidroit Convention on stolen or illegally exported cultural objects – a Brexit bonus?

A few weeks ago, it was widely reported that Greece would seek the return of the Parthenon Marbles as part of any Brexit agreement (e.g. Barnes 2020). As with most news concerning Brexit, these reports were transparently fake, arising from a sentence in a leaked EU document stating that ‘the Parties should, consistently with Union rules, address issues relating to the return or restitution of unlawfully removed cultural objects to their countries of origin’ (Hickley 2020). This sentence is a clear reference to the UK’s Brexit-related withdrawal from the requirements of EU Directive 2014/60 on the return of cultural objects unlawfully removed from the territory of a member state. Countries such as Italy and Greece are understandably concerned that the UK withdrawal will help open up the UK market to stolen antiquities and other cultural objects. One obvious solution would be for the UK and EU member states that have not already done so to sign up to the 1995 Unidroit Convention on stolen or illegally exported cultural objects, thereby bringing all countries together within a common legal framework. Italy and Greece are already parties to the Unidroit Convention, though not all EU countries are, and the UK could take the lead in pushing for this solution. So come on Dominic Cummings, if you are reading this blog (and you should be), start thinking about creating a Brexit bonus for the world’s cultural heritage.


Barnes, Joe, 2020. Brexit FURY: Are you SERIOUS?! Barnier’s Elgin Marbles demand leaves team Boris fuming. Daily Express, 19 February.

Hickley, Catherine, 2020. Leaked draft of EU paper stirs Parthenon Marbles dispute. Art Newspaper, 19 February.