Politics

Tory MPs launch last ditch attempt to ensure Big Ben bongs to mark Brexit

Though House of Commons Commission chair – Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle – said he would not stand in the way should MPs wish to mark Brexit that way, a spokesman said the extra chime could cost at least £120,000 and contractors needed 14 days to carry out work ahead of the departure date. A total of 60 MPs, including Tory Brexiteer grandees Mark Francois, Sir Iain Duncan Smith, Sir Bill Cash and Sir John Redwood, have signed a letter to the Sunday Telegraph demanding the chiming take place. They said: “Unless this decision is overturned, Big Ben will stay silent on this historic night.

“We believe this would be much to the consternation of many people around the UK who wish to celebrate this momentous event.

“Moreover, we believe that, given the number of years that we in Parliament have been arguing over this issue, leaving on January 31 will help to bring a degree of closure, not just in the House but hopefully among the public as a whole.”

They added: “Allowing Big Ben to chime could help to provide some catharsis in this process.”

Brexit Party leader and MEP Nigel Farage has applied for permission to hold a party in Parliament Square to listen to the bongs.

In total 12,000 people have applied for tickets.

Mr Farage said: “There will be a big crowd in Parliament Square on Jan 31. Big Ben must chime at this historic moment.”

Tory MP Sir Paul Beresford, a member of the Commission, said he was “happy for Big Ben to sound” on the day in question, echoing the sentiments of Sir Lindsay.

The idea has some Government support with House of Commons leader Jacob Rees-Mogg admitting “I am naturally sympathetic”.

Sir Paul, however, told MPs that the Commission had “not received a request from the Government to arrange for Big Ben to sound to mark the UK’s departure from the EU”.

A Commons spokesman said: “The Speaker has indicated that sounding the bell is a matter for Members of the House of Commons, and as such there are no plans for it to be discussed by the Commission.”

Aides to Prime Minister Boris Johnson dismissed the suggestion pubs should be allowed to stay open for an extra hour.

The spokesman warned of logistical hurdles explaining: “The project team would need at least two weeks to prepare for striking Big Ben on January 31, including carrying out the necessary testing.”

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He added: “The final cost will depend on the scale and nature of the disruption to the works. In broad terms, the estimated cost is £120,000 to sound the bell, plus circa £100,000 for each week of delays.

“This estimate is based on the fixed cost of installing, testing, operating and dismantling the temporary mechanism used to sound the bell during the works, plus an allowance for each week that work on the project is delayed.”

Big Ben is currently undergoing restoration works with chimes being silenced to protect the hearing of workers.

The bells have rung out on special occasions such as Remembrance Sunday and New Year.

January 31 will mark 1,318 days since the original referendum.

Both Mr Johnson and Mr Rees-Mogg were prominent members of the leave campaign.

A spokesman for the PM said the Government will soon announce a series of plans to mark Brexit.

January 31 will also see the closure of the Department for Exiting the European Union.

The PM’s spokesman has said the department’s staff will be helped to find new jobs.

 

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