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Boris Johnson to mark Brexit with Downing Street light display as row rages over Big Ben bong snub

3 min read

Boris Johnson will usher in Britain's exit from the European Union with a light show at Number 10 amid a row over Brexiteers' demands for Big Ben to bong instead.

A clock counting down to 11pm will be beamed onto the black bricks of Downing Street on 31 January, Number 10 announced, with buildings across Whitehall also lit up.

The Union Jack will meanwhile be flown on all flag poles in Parliament Square, the Government said, while the Prime Minister will make a special address to the nation that evening.

But the announcement came amid a bitter row over whether or not Big Ben should chime to mark Brexit - a move rejected by House of Commons authorities.

Downing Street this week said there were “potential difficulties” in accepting public cash to fund the cost of extra work needed to allow the iconic clock to chime - just days after the Prime Minister kicked off a fundraising drive by urging Brits to "bung a bob for a Big Ben bong" at the moment of Brexit.

Mr Johnson's official spokesperson said: “The House of Commons authorities have set out that there may be potential difficulties in accepting money from public donations.”

They added: “The PM’s focus is on the events which he and the Government are planning to mark 31 January. It’s a significant moment in our history and we want to ensure that’s properly recorded.”

Nevertheless, a fundraising drive aimed at meeting the £500,000 cost has already raised more than £225,000 - with Eurosceptic pressure group Leave Means Leave hurling another £50,000 into the pot on Friday.

Senior Conservative backbencher Sir Iain Duncan Smith on Friday urged Downing Street to rethink its stance, while Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage claimed ministers were "embarrassed by Brexit".

Sir Iain told the BBC: "Big Ben sounds out in all of the big occasions. It sounded out the end of the war in Europe, it sounded out the end of the war in Japan, when we joined the EU - a marker for when we entered, and as we leave, arguably the biggest decision we have made since the end of the war."

The former Cabinet minister added: "There should be some way that the Government can, if necessary, put a motion down and say 'let's do this for God's sake, let's do it.'"

Downing Street also confirmed on Friday that ministers will be dispatched to the north of England for a special session of Cabinet on Brexit day, focusing on "the PM’s levelling up agenda and how this government plans to spread prosperity and opportunity across our great Union of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland"

They said: "January 31st is a significant moment in our history as the United Kingdom leaves the EU and regains its independence.

"The Government intends to use this as a moment to heal divisions, re-unite communities and look forward to the country that we want to build over the next decade."

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