Blame game starts as 'bong for Brexit' donors set for disappointment

17 January 2020, 15:02 | Updated: 17 January 2020, 15:06

Brexit battle for Big Ben's Bells to bong for Brexit
Brexit battle for Big Ben's Bells to bong for Brexit. Picture: PA

Supporters of the campaign to get Big Ben to "bong for Brexit" look set to be disappointed as it is revealed money donated cannot be used.

An online fundraising campaign seeking to have Big Ben ring to welcome in Brexit at 11pm on January 31 has raised more than £150,000.

Stand Up 4 Brexit's "Big Ben must bong for Brexit" campaign had raised £152,470 of its £500,000 target from almost 10,000 donors on the GofFundMe website by Friday morning.

The fundraising campaign was launched after a number of prominent Brexit supporters suggested the bells should toll to mark the moment the UK leaves the EU.

One of the key forces behind the campaign has been arch-Brexiteer Mark Francois who told LBC's Iain Dale he was confident the bell could ring to mark the moment the country leaves the EU.

"The money is pouring in, I'm pretty confident we're going to hit the target," Mr Francois said, "and then there's no reason why technically we can't do it."

Iain Dale pointed to a report that said the authorities would need two weeks' notice to erect a platform.

"What a load of old codswallop," said Mark Francois, "how long does it take to lay some flooring? I come from Essex, I've got some people who can lay some flooring like lightning. It doesn't take two weeks to put a temporary floor in and attach a clapper to a bell."

But, on Thursday night the House of Commons Commission - chaired by the Speaker - said the money could not be used because of parliamentary rules on financial donations.

This immediately kicked off a Westminster blame game with the committee blamed Boris Johnson for failing to check it was possible to sound Big Ben before encouraging the public to donate money.

Mr Johnson appears to have rowed back after initially backing the calls for the bell to ring with a Downing Street spokesperson saying the Prime Minister is focusing on official plans to mark the occasion.

With Number 10 claiming the issue was a matter for the House authorities, parliamentary insiders have hit back and said MPs would need to vote in the Commons on the issue.

A Downing Street spokesman said: "This is a matter for the House, they have indicated they will not accept the money were the public to fundraise for this.

"The PM is focused on the Government's plans to mark January 31."

The House of Commons Commission said it would be an "unprecedented approach" to fund the cost through public donations and "any novel form of funding would need to be consistent with principles of propriety and proper oversight of public expenditure".

Asked whether people should contribute to the appeal, the Prime Minister's official spokesman said: "I'm just reflecting that the Parliamentary authorities have set out some potential problems.

"Our focus is on the events that the Government are currently working on."

Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle baulked at the idea of paying the cost of bringing the bell back into use, saying "you are talking about £50,000 a bong".

Rebecca Ryan, founder of Stand Up 4 Brexit, said the speed of the fundraising effort "bears testament to the strength of feeling amongst the British people that Big Ben, the focal point of our democracy, must bong to mark this historic occasion - the moment when we finally take back control".