Millionaire businessman Mr Banks joined forces with the campaign group and donated £50,000 towards the bid to make Big Ben chime on Brexit day, according to Mark Francois. The Conservative MP told BBC Radio 4’s World At One programme that the donation meant the campaign, which is seeking to raise £500,000, is nearly halfway towards its target. Mr Francois told the BBC: “We’re at £166,000 and I can now make a formal announcement.
“Following telephone calls this morning, Leave Means Leave and Arron Banks have now donated £50,000 towards the campaign.
“We are now not far short of £220,000, and by the end of the day we probably won’t be a million miles away from having raised half the total in two days.”
The backbench MP said he continued to doubt that restorations to make Big Ben ring out at 11pm on the last day of January actually cost £500,000.
He added: “I’ve always been deeply sceptical that is actually going to cost half-a-million pounds to chime Big Ben.
“I think those figures need much closer examination. I think the officials have deliberately inflated the figure because they don’t want to do it.”
It comes as the Daily Express has learnt senior ministers are blaming a Remainer plot among parliamentary chiefs for silencing Big Ben on Brexit night.
They claim anti-Brexit members of the House of Commission exaggerated the estimated cost of temporarily reactivating Westminster’s iconic bell in an attempt to undermine celebrations of the UK’s departure from the EU at the end of the month.
A Cabinet minister said: “They just want to stop us marking this historic moment properly.”
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The accusation was made as Brexiteers scrambled to try to raise up to half-a-million pounds to ensure Big Ben’s famous bongs ring out at 11pm on January 31 when the country is set to formally leave the EU.
Veteran Eurosceptics in the Government are understood to be frustrated by the commission’s decision earlier this week to rule out reactivating Big Ben, which is currently out of service due to maintenance work, for Brexit night.
A statement from the commission, which supervises Commons administration, estimated that re-attaching the bell’s striking mechanism and installing a temporary floor, as well as the financial impact of delaying Parliament’s refurbishment programme, could cost taxpayers between £320,000 and £500,000.
But the Cabinet minister said: “There’s no way it would really cost £500,000. It’s just the Remainers on the House of Commons Commission – they just want to stick it to us Brexiteers.”
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Commission members include Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle, Commons Leader Jacob-Rees Mogg, Labour frontbencher Valerie Vaz, senior SNP MP Pete Whishart and other MPs and parliamentary officials.
Westminster insiders say Remainers have a narrow majority on the 10-strong body.
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