Boris Johnson forced into humiliating U-turn after House of Commons blocks Big Ben Brexit bong bid

Posted On: 
16th January 2020

Boris Johnson has been forced to shelve his call for members of the public to donate their own money so that Big Ben can bong to mark Brexit.

Big Ben is currently undergoing renovation work.

In an embarrassing climbdown, Downing Street said there were “potential difficulties” in accepting public cash - just days after the Prime Minister kicked off a fundraising drive by urging Brits to "bung a bob for a Big Ben bong" at 11pm on 31 January.

The iconic clock tower is currently silent for restoration work, and the cost of bringing it back for a one-off occasion is estimated at £500,000.

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At the time of writing almost £70,000 had been donated by members of the public to fund the chime - including £1,000 from Conservative Brexiteer Mark Francois.

But the Prime Minister’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.”

The move has already sparked an angry backlash from some Eurosceptics.

Mr Francois told The Telegraph: "The money is literally pouring in and I cannot believe that if we hit the target the Prime Minister will abandon a campaign he himself effectively launched two days ago."

Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage, who is planning his own bash in Parliament Square to mark Britain’s EU exit, meanwhile fumed: “As I’ve said before, the Government are embarrassed by Brexit and not proud of it.”

Mr Johnson got the ball rolling on the fundraising drive earlier this week when he told the BBC: “We are working up a plan so people can bung a bob for a Big Ben bong.”

On Tuesday, Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle - who heads up the House of Commons Commission which leads on Parliament’s restoration work - said: "The commission believes it is important to weigh up the costs this would involve if Big Ben is to chime on 31 January.

"You are talking about £50,000 a bong. We also have to bear in mind that the only people who will hear it will be those who live near or are visiting Westminster."