The “brexiters” want to ring the world’s most famous bell on January 31. Problem: Big Ben is under construction. It is estimated that it will cost around 600,000 euros to put it back into service for the occasion.
A symbol of the division of the country in the run-up to the Brexit? A few days before the fateful date and the UK’s exit from the EU on 31 January next, a question continues to tear the British people apart: Will Big Ben mark this historic event? As “Le Monde” points out, the question is more serious than it seems.
For the 160-year-old clock in the Palace of Westminster has been silenced for more than two years due to extensive restoration work. Its chimes now ring only on very rare occasions, such as New Year’s Day, and some Brexit supporters wanted it to mark the exit from the European Union on 31 January at 11 p.m. (midnight Paris time).
Problem? It’s too expensive, Parliament decreed. The operation, given the current work, could cost up to £500,000 (€585,000). Almost “50,000 pounds per shot,” calculated the Speaker of the House of Commons, Lindsay Hoyle.
A participatory campaign?
But Prime Minister Boris Johnson, a strong supporter of Brexit, refused to bury the idea! He even raised the possibility of a public subscription. The idea soon received the support of conservative donors, who said they were ready to contribute to the collective effort, but also of newspapers such as the “Daily Expres”, which hammered on the front page: “Big Ben must ring out for Brexit”.
Hopes showered by Downing Street on Thursday, which explained that Parliament was not allowed to launch a participatory fundraising campaign. Among the pro-Brexit ranks, disappointment is high. For Conservative MP Mark Francois, it is “inconceivable” that Big Ben won’t ring the bell for such a big event, which brings an end to nearly half a century of an often contentious marriage.
The government is “embarrassed by the Brexit and is not proud of it”, attacked Nigel Farage, a figure in the campaign for the 2016 referendum in favour of leaving the European Union.
Have you lost your mind?
Some Eurosceptic media have accused supporters of retention in the European Union of inflating the cost estimate to make Big Ben ring, noting that it did ring out to celebrate the New Year.
Far from being unanimous even among Brexit supporters, the fight to get Big Ben to ring the bell is gnashing its teeth. “Have you lost your mind? “headlines a viral parody on the front page of the Daily Express, pointing the finger at those who “want to spend half a million to ring a bell” despite poverty and the climate crisis.
Most Conservative ministers have avoided speaking out on the subject, with Steve Barclay, head of Brexit, saying he “wouldn’t dare” comment. As Brexit approaches, any celebration could be unwelcome. “For many people, it will not be a joyful moment,” warned Patrick Grady, MP for the Scottish National Party, whose party is resolutely pro-European.