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Big Ben 'unlikely' to chime on 'Brexit day' due to cost but PM suggests £500,000 could be crowdfunded

Big Ben is not scheduled to chime again until 2021 and the estimated cost of bringing that forward, even temporarily, is estimated to be huge. Credit: PA

Big Ben is "unlikely" to chime on January 31 - otherwise known as 'Brexit Day - because it could cost the public purse more than £500,000, the House of Commons Commission has heard.

Due to the huge cost likely to be incurred, Boris Johnson said the government was working on a plan to let Britons “bung a bob for a Big Ben bong”.

The famous bell was temporarily silenced in 2017 for the safety of workers involved in a four-year restoration scheme of the Elizabeth Tower.

But dozens of Brexit supporting MPs - including Eurosceptic Mark Francois - want the iconic bell to chime when the clock strikes 11pm on 31 January, to mark Britain’s departure from the European Union.

The issue was discussed at a meeting of the House of Commons Commission on Monday, but it was ultimately ruled out after it was revealed that it would cost £500,000, up from the original estimate of £120,000.

House of Commons Speaker Lindsay Hoyle 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.

The Elizabeth Tower is currently undergoing a £61m refurbishment. Credit: PA

“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.”

The expanded budget stems from the need to put in and remove a temporary floor in order to ring the bell.

However the Prime Minister, in an interview with BBC Breakfast, said the Government was working up a plan to fund the costs to enable the bell to chime.

“The bongs cost £500,000 but we’re working up a plan so people can bung a bob for a Big Ben bong because there are some people who want to,” he said.

“Because Big Ben is being refurbished, they seem to have taken the clapper away, so we need to restore the clapper in order to bong Big Ben on Brexit night."

The Prime Minister's official spokesman said: "If the public wants Big Ben to bong and the money is raised then that is great.

"We will make sure that - whatever happens in regard to Big Ben's bongs - January 31 is properly marked.

"It is a significant moment in our history."

Brexit-supporter Mr Francois said he's "very confident" £500,000 can be raised in a "few days, given the history of all this".

"For those who want to celebrate, they'll need to look to a clock, just as people do on New Year's Eve and it seems inconceivable to me and many of my colleagues in the House of Commons that it should be any other clock than the most famous timepiece in the world, Big Ben," Mr Francois added.

LBC radio presenter Nick Ferrari said he planned to start his own crowdfunding campaign in order for the bells to chime and said he would chip in £1,000 of his own money and Mr Francois claims he would match it.

And Eurosceptic millionaire Lord Ashcroft said he would "underwrite" the success of any crowdfunding campaign.

“And that is expensive, so we’re looking at whether the public can fund it.”

Another source reportedly said there wasn’t enough time to plan for the bell to ring, saying the project team would need “at least two weeks” to prepare.

Conservative MP Mark Francois told the Daily Telegraph he was “very disappointed” with the commission’s decision.

“I’ve already offered to go up Big Ben myself, ably assisted by (European Scrutiny Committee chair) Bill Cash, to ring the bell myself to save money,” he said.

“If all else fails, the BBC must have a recording of Big Ben chiming they could play at 11pm at no cost whatsoever to taxpayers.”

Why does ringing the bell cost so much money?

  • Bringing the ‘bonging’ mechanism back, testing it and allowing it to chime, building a temporary floor to the belfry and removing it again would cost an estimated £120,000
  • Delaying the ongoing conservation work by up to four weeks would cost £100,000 a week
  • At that price it would cost £50,000 per bong