Hardliners seek to force Big Ben bonging for Brexit into law

Flags waving as as protesters take part in an anti-Brexit rally. Photograph: Matt Crossick/ EMPICS E

Flags waving as as protesters take part in an anti-Brexit rally. Photograph: Matt Crossick/ EMPICS Entertainment. - Credit: Empics Entertainment

A group of Brexiteer MPs are seeking to write into law that Big Ben chimes to mark Britain leaving the EU on January 31.

The iconic bell is currently undergoing a multimillion-pound restoration, having fell silent in August 2017. It is not expected to return to full service until 2021 and in the meantime has only bonged for Remembrance Sunday and to mark the New Year.

A previous attempt by Brexit hardliners to bring it back into action to mark Britain's EU departure was blocked by former speaker John Bercow as chair of the parliamentary commission that presides over decisions on the bell.

But Boris Johnson's decisive election victory means that a group of backbenchers are confident an amendment to the PM's withdrawal bill enshrining in law that the bell must sound to mark Brexit will pass.

The group behind the push is led by Mark Francois, the deputy chairman of the European Research Group who had previously claimed that Britain would "explode" if it had not left the EU by October 31 last year.

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It also includes one-time fringe Eurosceptics Sir David Amess, Nigel Evans and Sir Jeffrey Donaldson. New speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle has already indicated he would support Big Ben chiming if the Commons backed it.

Francois told the Daily Telegraph: "I have tabled this new clause to the Brexit bill to allow the House of Commons to vote on whether or not Big Ben should chime on exit day.

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"This amendment would provide the perfect vehicle for the House to express its will and I very much hope it will be selected and then passed into law."

The former defence secretary Penny Mordaunt backed the move last year saying: "Those chimes help create a moment of national focus for the nation, and I think it would be fitting if they were able to ring out to mark the moment.

"I hope the Palace Authorities will agree to our request."

The Daily Express claimed it would "mark the glorious return of the [sic] Big Ben into work as well as of British independence".

MPs voted by 358 to 234, a majority of 124, before Christmas to give Johnson's withdrawal agreement bill its second reading before breaking for recess.

They will return on Tuesday for further debates and votes on the legislation.

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