Downing Street pulled further back from the “Big Ben bongs” campaign, as Brexiters plough cash into a crowdfunder to raise half a million pounds.
The Prime Minister’s spokesman gave the clearest signal yet that the iconic bells would not chime on 31 January even if the £500,000 is raised.
Although he stopped short of suggesting people do not give to the campaign, which has raised nearly £80,000 in 17 hours, the spokesman said Downing Street was “focusing on the events we are planning” instead.
“The House of Commons authorities have set out that there may be particular difficulties in accepting money from public donations,” the spokesman 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 make sure it is marked properly.”
It is thought Downing Street wants a less bombastic way to mark the moment the UK officially leaves the EU. City A.M. understands the team has even backed away from hosting a party at Number 10.
The campaign was sparked after Boris Johnson suggested that it was something being actively pursued.
“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,” Johnson told BBC Breakfast.
“Because Big Ben is being refurbished, they seem to have taken the clapper away, so we need to restore the clapper. And that is expensive, so we’re looking at whether the public can fund it.”
Conservative MP Mark Francois has given £1,000, while business secretary Andrea Leadsom has chipped in £10.
Asked about it earlier this week, speaker Sir 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. 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.”
Main image: Getty