Chastened Johnson tones down Brexit celebrations

Boris Johnson has announced a series of muted state-sponsored events to mark Brexit on January 31, after he was forced to admit defeat in his effort to crowdfund up to £500,000 to allow Big Ben to chime as the UK officially leaves the EU.

In a tortured attempt to acknowledge the historic occasion, without being seen to celebrate an event that 48 per cent of the country voted against, a clock counting down to 11pm will be projected on to the front of No 10 Downing Street.

During the day the prime minister will make a special address to the nation and hold a cabinet meeting in the north of England during which ministers will discuss the government’s pledge to “level up” economic performance in struggling towns in northern England and the midlands.

They will also discuss plans to “spread prosperity and opportunity” across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

In the evening, Downing Street will showcase a light display, which will be livestreamed on government social media channels, the Union Jack will be flown on all flag poles in Parliament Square while government buildings across Whitehall will be lit up as the UK leaves the EU.

A commemorative 50p coin, engraved with the words “peace, prosperity and friendship with all nations”, will finally come into circulation.

A special run of 10m 50p pieces stamped “Friendship with all nations” and dated October 31, 2019 was put on hold last year after parliament forced Mr Johnson to accept a Brexit extension until January 31.

Mr Johnson said on Tuesday that the government was “working up a plan so people can bung a bob for a Big Ben bong”.

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Over £220,000 has so far been raised by public crowdfunding efforts, but the prime minister’s spokesman confirmed on Friday that the House of Commons authorities had effectively ruled out being able to use public donations, prompting a fierce backlash from Brexit-supporting national newspapers and Tory MPs.

The millionaire Arron Banks and Leave Means Leave campaign group had together donated £50,000 to the cause.

Commons authorities have said it would cost up to £500,000 to ring the bell, which has been silenced since 2017 to allow the refurbishment of the Elizabeth Tower in which it is housed.

They have also warned that it would cost £120,000 to restore that mechanism to the Elizabeth Tower, install a temporary floor for the belfry and test the bell.

Lindsay Hoyle, the Speaker, said on Tuesday: “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.”


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