Boris Announces Brexit Day Bash — But No Big Ben Bong

People walk over Westminster Bridge wrapped in Union flags, towards the Queen Elizabeth Tower (Big Ben) and The Houses of Parliament in central London on June 26, 2016.
ODD ANDERSEN/AFP/Getty

Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s office has revealed the plans to mark the UK leaving the EU at 11 pm on January 31st, 2020, but Big Ben ringing in the new era of British history is not amongst them.

On Friday, Number 10 confirmed that there will be a light display livestreamed during the count-down which will include a clock projected onto the walls of Downing Street with buildings around Whitehall being lit, as well. Union flags are to be flown on the flag poles surrounding Parliament Square, opposite the Palace of Westminster, while the prime minister will address the nation in the evening.

In a gesture marking the new Conservative government’s pledge to be the party of the working classes across the country, a special Cabinet meeting will be held in the North of England to discuss how to “spread prosperity and opportunity across our great Union of England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland”.

Commemorative 50p coins bearing the phrase, “peace, prosperity and friendship with all nations” and stamped with the Brexit date will also be put into circulation that day.

A Number 10 spokesman told The Telegraph: “We hope to bring the nation forward as we all move forward to a brighter future. After three years of rancour, it is now time turn the page as one united country.”

However, there is the obvious omission of the Victorian clock ringing in the new era. There has been a dispute between Parliamentary Brexiteers, Number 10, and the House of Commons Commission over whether the clock, which is currently at limited functionality due to conservation works, can be rung.

Brexiteer MPs tried and were unsuccessful in adding an amendment to the Brexit bill ensuring the bells ring in Brexit, and while StandUp4Brexit has managed to raise more than £250,000 of the half a million quoted to restore a clapper to the clock, the Commission said that it might not be able to accept the public donations without changing parliamentary rules on revenue.

Prime Minister Johnson had publicly green-lighted the prospect of crowdfunding, saying earlier in the week that his team was “working up a plan so people can bung a bob for a Big Ben bong”. However, after the Commission’s attempts to block the plan, the prime minister’s office all but admitted that it was impossible, with a source saying: “I don’t think we ever thought that it would be as complex as the House of Commons authorities have since set out.”

There is also the question of the £500,000 bill, which the Commons authorities said was needed to restore the temporary clapper used to mark New Year’s and armistice day, erect scaffolding around the structure, and the knock-on costs of delays to the ongoing conservation work to the Queen Elizabeth II Tower.

However, that quote may have been vastly inflated — by 35 times — with the cost of the clock to ring in New Year’s costing just £14,200. Sir Paul Beresford told MPs in Parliament on Friday that: “The costs associated with striking Big Ben on Remembrance Sunday and New Year’s Eve in 2019 were £14.2k including VAT on each occasion.”

Mark Francois, the Conservative MP who led the Commons campaign and StandUp4Brexit crowdfunding for Big Ben to ring in the new post-EU era, told The Telegraph: “I have always suspected that these costs were inflated but I never dreamt it was 35 fold! What was becoming an embarrassment is now evolving into a scandal.

“I will be writing to the head of the National Audit Office [Parliament’s spending watchdog] on Monday morning formally ask them to investigate the entire Elizabeth Tower project.”

However, Nigel Farage’s street party in Parliament Square has been approved, and Britons are able to register their interest in tickets for the 10,000-strong Brexiteer bash.

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