There is a sense, and whisper it because you’re not allowed to say these things out loud, that Brexit has come about largely due to a rampant sense of nationalism that exists in many parts of England and Wales, primarily.
So it comes as no great shock that on January 31, the official leaving date from the EU, many people want Big Ben to chime to mark what is going to be – for better or worse – one of the most important moments in modern UK politics.
There’s one major problem, however: Big Ben is currently undergoing repairs, and the bill for the bells to bong on the big day is estimated at a cool £500,000.
For whom the bell tolls….well, not for Boris Johnson, anyway. The Prime Minister has confirmed that the whopping invoice will not be settled by the government, so if the public wants to be serenaded by the London landmark they will need to fund the bill themselves.
Hence the current crowdfunding campaign that is doing the rounds, which has already attracted an eyebrow-raising amount of investment.
What’s Up With Big Ben?
As part of a four year restoration project, Big Ben is currently out of action due to the necessary repair work.
And while the team behind the work is able to cater for special occasions, such as the New Year’s celebrations, and bring the chimes back to life, they are unable to make them workable for unscheduled events like Brexit.
Currently, Big Ben’s ‘clapper’ has been removed, which may sound like an adult actor’s vasectomy but is in fact a technical term for the piece of machinery that makes the mighty clock sing.
Temporarily replacing the clapper comes at a prohibitive expense, and so anybody who wants to hear the bells at 23:00 on January 31 (that will be midnight in Brussels) – when Brexit will be signed, sealed and delivered – then they will need to dig deep in their pockets.
So Why Will the Brexit Bongs Cost £500k?
Here’s something you probably didn’t know: each bong of a temporary clapper in Big Ben costs £45,000, which means that if eleven chimes are heard to signal the completion of Brexit it will cost nearly £500k for the full set.
And that’s in addition to an estimated £120,000 for installing a temporary floor, the cost of delays to the ongoing restoration work and the expense of installing a short-term hammer and bell for the bongs to work.
All of which is rather ludicrous when you think about it, given that only people within spitting distance of Big Ben will actually be able to hear the bongs anyway.
But then, why let simple logic get in the way of a good story….
Why Won’t the Government Pay for It?
Ultimately, there is no fund for the one-off work to be commissioned, nor is there any legal framework for it to be done – such a motion for an amendment to the Brexit bill was ignored in the House of Commons.
And so the possibility of crowdfunding the project was raised by a number of Pro-Leave groups, with the PM telling BBC Breakfast in his typically awkward fashion that he was ‘working up a plan so people can bung a bob for a Big Ben bong, because there are some people who want to.’
“The bongs cost £500,000… but we’re working up a plan so that people can bung a bob for a Big Ben bong”
— BBC Politics (@BBCPolitics) January 14, 2020
However, Johnson has subsequently spoken of ‘potential difficulties’ in using publicly-funded donations in such a way.
The House of Commons Commission is a governmental body that is responsible for the day-to-day running of Parliament, including how money is spent, and they have raised their concerns in how crowdfunding is used in such political situations.
Fundraising ‘has to be consistent with principles of propriety and proper oversight of public expenditure,’ they said via a statement.
That lit the blue touchpaper for the likes of Nigel Farage, who questioned, well, everything in his usual brusque fashion, while Richard Tice – head of the Brexit Party – said ‘if we can’t organise for a bell to chime at this historic moment.’
The StandUp4Brexit group, who organised the crowdfunding effort, has said that if the £500,000 mark is not met by donations then the sum generated will be handed to the Help for Heroes charity.
By Thursday afternoon, more than £100,000 had been raised with a number of politicians getting out their chequebooks, including Mark Francois, who has foregone this month’s expense claim for his duck moat by donating £1,000.