Downing Street announces plans for Brexit countdown clock to distract from botched Big Ben bong bid

Harriet Brewis
The party is being planned in Parliament Square: AFP via Getty Images

The Government will project a clock onto Downing Street to count down the minutes until Britain leaves the EU – but Big Ben will not bong, according to government plans.

Boris Johnson appealed to the public on Tuesday to “bung a bob for a Big Ben bong” to mark the historic moment, but has since withdrawn his support for the bid after Commons authorities said they were unwilling to accept public donations.

Instead, a light show will be held around Whitehall on January 31, featuring a clock ticking down to 11pm GMT.

Union Flags will be flown on all the poles in Parliament Square and the Prime Minister will give a "special" address to the nation in the evening.

However, the celebratory plans do not include Big Ben chiming, fuelling outrage among Leave campaigners who have accused the government of being “embarrassed” by Brexit.

The Elizabeth Tower, which houses Big Ben, is undergoing refurbishment (AFP via Getty Images)

The House of Commons Commission estimates it would cost up to £500,000 to get the bell to bong, and has raised concerns over the "unprecedented approach" of using donations to fund the project.

Staunch eurosceptic Mark Francois has accused the authorities of inflating the figure and has called on spending watchdog the National Audit Office to investigate.

Meanwhile he has spearheaded a fundraising appeal to cover the estimated costs, titled ‘The Big Ben must bong for Brexit campaign’. It has raised more than £251,000 in three days from donors including business secretary Andrea Leadsom.

Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle has invited the government to table a motion on Monday if it wants to push ahead with the Big Ben pans, which he described as “highly political” and a matter for MPs.

But the government has sought to distance itself from the campaign, arguing there is no guarantee that the Commons authorities will accept the public donations.

A No 10 spokesman insisted that, instead, the Prime Minister’s focus would be on the day’s confirmed Brexit festivities.

These will include the introduction of a commemorative 50p Brexit coin and a special Cabinet meeting chaired by the PM in the north of England, where ministers will discuss plans to spread prosperity and opportunity across the UK.

Downing Street said it will use the "significant moment in our history" to "heal divisions, re-unite communities and look forward to the country that we want to build over the next decade."

But Brexit leader Nigel Farage has hit out at Mr Johnson, criticising him for "misleading" the public with his silenced “bung a bob” suggestion.

He accused the government of being “embarrassed by Brexit” and said its lack of support for the Big Ben campaign “makes me ask the question how much they really believe in it.”