Brexiteer MP predicts success for Big Ben Brexit bong campaign

By Sam Blewett, PA Political Correspondent

A Brexiteer Tory has predicted the £500,000 needed to get Big Ben to ring for Brexit will be raised within days.

Mark Francois, who has promised £1,000, said “I think we will get it within 48 hours” – but accused the House of Commons authorities of exaggerating the cost of bringing the currently silent bell back into operation.

So far, Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s “bung a bob for a Big Ben bong” proposal to get the bell to ring on Brexit night is attracting muted support on crowdfunding websites, with no official campaign.

Big Ben has been silent since 2017 with renovations under way, but ardent Brexiteers have called for the work to be paused so the bell can ring in the new relationship at an estimated cost of £500,000.

Mr Francois 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.”

He claimed the costs were “massively exaggerated” because “officials in the House of Commons just don’t want to do it”.

The bell should ring to allow those who want to celebrate to mark the occasion, he said, but acknowledged that not everyone would be cheering.

“There are some that don’t, they can watch Netflix or do whatever they want to do,” he said.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock told BBC Radio 5 Live: “Bong or no bong, we are delivering Brexit on January 31.”

The Prime Minister said on BBC Breakfast on Tuesday that the Government was “working up a plan so people can bung a bob for a Big Ben bong”.

His official spokesman insisted Brexit day would be properly marked, but said there was not a specific Government fund.

On crowdfunding website GoFundMe, a series of pages were attempting to raise cash for the bongs, but the majority had received no donations at all.

The StandUp4Brexit page had been pledged just over £7,000 from more than 460 donors, including the £1,000 from Mr Francois, while Business Secretary Andrea Leadsom promised £10.

There were also small donations from “Dominic Grieve”, “Jeremy Corbyn” and “John Bercow” but these were all likely to be fake names.

Restoring the bell was discussed at a meeting of the House of Commons Commission on Monday, but it was ultimately ruled out after it was revealed it could cost £500,000.

Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle, who is chairman of the commission, said: “You are talking about £50,000 a bong.”

Whether Big Ben bongs or not, Brexiteers intend to gather outside Parliament to mark the UK’s departure from the EU.

Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage said the Leave Means Leave campaign group had been been given approval to hold an event in Parliament Square on January 31.

“It is a big moment in the history of this nation to celebrate,” he said.

The Leave.EU campaign has called for churches across the nation to echo their reaction to the Allies’ victory against the Nazis in the Second World War.

“Whichever way you look at it, February 1 will be the most momentous morning in British history since the glorious day in 1945 when our country celebrated victory over the Nazi regime in Germany,” the group said.

But the Central Council of Church Bell Ringers declined to give its backing.

“There are historical moments for which bells have been rung – end of world wars for example. In 2018 the Central Council worked with the Government on a recruitment and awareness campaign to recognise 100 years since WW1 Armistice,” it said in a statement.

“However the Central Council, as a principle, does not endorse bell ringing for political reasons. Individual towers have discretion to ring for such occasions but is on a case-by-case basis and typically needs permission from the incumbent.”

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