January 14, 2020 1:38:18 PM
Britons may be able to “bung a bob for a Big Ben bong” on Brexit night under plans being drawn up by the Government, Boris Johnson has said.
The famous bell was temporarily silenced in 2017 for the safety of workers involved in the four-year restoration of the Elizabeth Tower.
But there have been calls for it to chime at 11pm on January 31 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 could cost £500,000, up from the original estimate of £120,000.
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.
“And that is expensive, so we’re looking at whether the public can fund it.”
Downing Street said there was not a specific government fund but insisted that whatever happened with the famous bell, Brexit day would be properly marked.
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.”
The spokesman added: “We are talking to the House at the moment. The House would need to agree to any proposal.”
Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle, who is chairman of the Commission, said it would cost around £50,000 per bong if Big Ben were to chime at the end of the month.
“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.”
The clock mechanism which powers the hammer that strikes the Great Bell was dismantled and removed as part of the refurbishment project.
For the bell to chime, the temporary striking mechanism used for Remembrance Sunday and New Year’s Eve would need to be reattached and tested to ensure it strikes at the correct time.
The Commission estimates that installing a temporary floor, testing and striking Big Ben would cost £120,000.
But the delay to work in the belfry would push back the programme of work by two to four weeks – at a cost of £100,000 per week – taking the total cost potentially up to £500,000.