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  1. ITV Report

Big Ben bong for Brexit bill 'more than 30 times more than cost for New Year's Eve chime'

The cost to make Big Ben bong to mark Brexit night is more than 30 times the amount it cost for the famous clock to chime for New Year's Eve, Mark Francois MP has said.

The Tory MP, who has led the campaign to make the Westminster timepiece chime to mark Brexit, said a parliamentary question he had answered on Friday showed the cost was far less than the £500,000 previously stated.

Mr Francois said: "We now know that the cost is not £500,000. I've had today answered a parliamentary question that says on New Year's Eve and Remembrance, it was £14,200 on each occasion."

He added: "So it's patently obvious that the House of Commons commission officials, who never wanted to do this, have quite delibrately inflated the costs 35 fold to try and con us.

"This was an embarrassment, it's now turning into a scandal."

Mr Francois told ITV News he was planning to refer the cost of the bongs between New Year's Eve and Brexit Day to the National Audit Office (NAO) so they could investigate.

He added: "The Commons' Commission are embarrassed because the total cost of refurbishing the Elizabeth Tower has gone up from £33m to £80m.

"They've lost control of the project and they've tried to divert attention away from that, and that's partly why they've inflated these costs in the hope the whole issue will go away.

"They've been caught out, and I'm going to ask the NAO to formally investigate the entire project."

An online GoFundMe campaign called “Big Ben must bong for Brexit” has raised more than £200,000 of its £500,000 target.

An online fundraiser seeking to have Big Ben ring to welcome in Brexit has raised more than £150,000. Credit: PA

In a statement, the House of Commons said the campaign to cover the cost of striking the bell was an "unprecedented approach" indicating that regulations meant the money could not be used for the purpose it was raised for.

"The House of Commons has well established means of voting through the expenditure required to allow it to function, and to preserve its constitutional position in relation to Government," the statement said.

"Any novel form of funding would need to be consistent with principles of propriety and proper oversight of public expenditure."

About 10,000 donors have made pledges to get the bell rung. Credit: PA

Those who wish to celebrate Britain leaving the EU hope to do so in the same manner as New Year’s Eve – by looking at a clock, the campaign’s organisers wrote online.

“The natural choice for this would be Big Ben but because it is currently undergoing refurbishment, special measures would have to be put in place, which could cost up to £500,000,” a statement by StandUp4Brexit founder Rebecca Ryan and Mark Francois MP added.

“However, because there is a lead time to make the necessary preparations, we would need to raise this amount by this weekend.”

Mr Francois had earlier accused the House of Commons authorities of exaggerating the cost of bringing the bell which has been silent since 2017 back into operation.

In a video posted on the fundraising site, Mr Francois said he is “delighted to announce that our Eurosceptic colleagues from StandUp4Brexit have agreed to host a crowdfunding campaign to help raise half a million pounds so that Big Ben can chime at 11pm on the 31st of January”.

He added that the campaign hopes to get contributions “from across the four nations of the United Kingdom, what the Prime Minister likes to call the ‘awesome foursome'”.

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Mr Francois said it is “inconceivable” that the clock used to mark the UK’s departure from the EU “could be any other than the most iconic timepiece on Earth, which is Big Ben”.

He finished his appeal by saying “please give an amount an amount on this website now so we can properly celebrate becoming a free country again”.

When the fundraiser passed £100,000, Ms Ryan and Mr Francois posted a message on the site saying they “were very pleased to hear the Leader of the House, Jacob Rees-Mogg, state this morning – in relation to our campaign – that Parliament ‘shouldn’t look gift horses in the mouth’”.

They added that “Britons are currently donating more than £80 a minute to the campaign, with an average donation of £16”.

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The Prime Minister had said on BBC Breakfast on Tuesday that the Government was “working up a plan so people can bung a bob for a Big Ben bong”.

Donations to the campaign include £1,000 from Mr Francois, while Business Secretary Andrea Leadsom promised £10.

There were also small donations from “Dominic Grieve”, “Jeremy Corbyn” and “John Bercow” but these were all thought likely to be fake names.

Restoring the bell was discussed at a meeting of the House of Commons Commission on Monday, but it was ruled out after it was revealed it could cost £500,000.

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Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle, who is chairman of the commission, said: “You are talking about £50,000 a bong.”

Whether Big Ben bongs or not, Brexiteers intend to gather outside Parliament to mark the UK’s departure from the EU.

Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage said the Leave Means Leave campaign group had been been given approval to hold an event in Parliament Square on January 31.

“It is a big moment in the history of this nation to celebrate,” he said.