REVEALED: Cabinet Minister’s secret plot to stop Big Ben bongs for Brexit
- Senior Cabinet Minister begs to find a way to stop Big Ben bonging on Brexit Day
- The House of Commons Commission effectively vetoed this plan last week
- MPs to be warned that the cost of the works has gone up to almost £80 million
- No 10 has unveiled its own programme to mark Brexit Day with outdoor clock
A Cabinet Minister secretly plotted with the Commons authorities two weeks ago to kill off the idea of Big Ben bonging for Brexit, The Mail on Sunday can reveal.
As public pressure started to mount for the historic clock to break its silence on the evening of January 31, the senior Minister begged: ‘We have to find a way of stopping this. It will be too divisive, Remainers will hate it.’
Earlier last week, the House of Commons Commission effectively vetoed the plan, claiming it would cost more than £500,000 to interrupt huge repair works now under way on the clock and the historic Elizabeth Tower that houses it.
The bell and tower are going through a four-year revamp which has involved encasing the structure in scaffolding and taking the bell out of commission for all but New Year’s Eve, Armistice Day and Remembrance Sunday
They also rejected offers of donations to meet the cost – to the fury of Brexiteers.
But the disclosure that a senior Minister had been plotting to achieve the same end reveals the scale of the chaos inside the Government over ‘bong-gate’.
Just days after the intervention, Boris Johnson openly backed the public appeal to raise the cash by suggesting people ‘bung a bob for a Big Ben bong’.
Mr Johnson has now privately apologised to Downing Street staff for raising false hopes.
No 10 instead unveiled its own programme to mark Brexit Day, with the Prime Minister addressing the nation from within Downing Street as a clock counting down to the moment Britain leaves the EU at 11pm is projected on to the outside.
Buildings around Whitehall will be lit up and Union Flags flown in Parliament Square – but the totemic bongs will not sound.
A senior Commons source said that it seemed the Government had been against the Big Ben scheme all along. They said: ‘In public, they might be trying to blame the Commons for being intransigent but in private, they’ve been trying to kill it off.’
The bell and tower are going through a four-year revamp which has involved encasing the structure in scaffolding and taking the bell out of commission for all but New Year’s Eve, Armistice Day and Remembrance Sunday.
The MoS can also reveal that MPs will shortly be warned that the cost of the works has rocketed from £60 million to almost £80 million.
Last night, Downing Street sources confirmed Mr Johnson had now apologised to aides for his comments on the campaign.
One said: ‘Boris was very contrite. He realises that if he hadn’t given this doomed idea the kiss of life last week, it’d have been put of its misery earlier.’
Asked to confirm that the bill had indeed soared, a Commons spokesman said no additional budget had yet been considered.
A Government spokesman said last night: ‘Downing Street has outlined plans for a special Cabinet, a PM address to the nation, and a light display to mark the UK leaving the EU. This is a significant moment in our history and a chance to bring the country together and reunite communities.’
The disclosure that a senior Minister had been plotting to achieve the same end reveals the scale of the chaos inside the Government over ‘bong-gate’. Just days after the intervention, Boris Johnson openly backed the public appeal
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