January 16, 2020
Boris Johnson has admitted defeat over plans to get Big Ben to bong to mark the moment of Brexit later this month.
Boris Johnson Backs Off Big Ben Bongs Plan To Mark Brexit Day
The prime minister had earlier this week raised hopes of avid Brexiteers, who want to fund works needed to restore the famous Westminster bell that is currently out of service due to restoration plans.
A rash of crowdsourcing websites were set up after it emerged that emergency works would cost £500,000 to allow the clock to chime at 11pm on 31 January to mark the UK’s formal exit from the European Union.
“We’re working up a plan so people can bung a bob for a Big Ben bong, because there are some people who want to,” Johnson told BBC Breakfast on Tuesday.
But on Thursday, No.10 conceded that there were practical difficulties because House of Commons cannot accept cash raised directly from donations websites.
The prime minister’s official spokesman said: “The House of Commons authorities have set out there may be potential difficulties in accepting money from public donations.
“The PM’s focus is on the events which he and the government are planning to mark January 31 and its significant moment in our history and we want to ensure that’s properly recorded.”It appears that not only is there no government bongs plan, as the PM had suggested, but the entire fundraising idea would be impossible under Commons rules.
One crowdfunding page has already raised £70,000 but it now appears that they will have be given their money back.
Asked if people should thus not bother giving to the crowdfunder, the PM’s spokesman replied: “What I have said is we’re focusing on the events we’re planning.”
It is unclear what events Johnson has lined up but there is anger within No.10 and among Tory MPs that the Commons has failed to be imaginative in anticipating the big day.
One source said the authorities had shown “intransigence”.
Big Ben has been silent since 2017 with renovations under way, but Leavers have called for the work to be paused so the bell can ring.
The House of Commons Commission – responsible for managing the parliamentary estate – raised caution over the plans, outlining that bringing the bell back into use during “essential reflooring work on the belfry could result in huge costs” to the public purse.
“We also have to bear in mind that the only people who will hear it will be those who live near or are visiting Westminster,” Speaker Lindsay Hoyle said in a statement earlier this week.
But Tory backbencher Mark Francois, who has promised £1,000 towards the fund, told ITV’s Good Morning Britain: “ It seems to me and many of my colleagues in the House of Commons patently daft that we have got the most iconic clock in the world - literally, it’s a world heritage site - that that should stay silent on this occasion.”
The costs were “massively exaggerated” because “officials in the House of Commons just don’t want to do it”, he claimed.
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