The sinister side of the Brexit bell row

Eurosceptics are demanding that Big Ben be made to chime at 11pm on January 31, which would cost �50

Eurosceptics are demanding that Big Ben be made to chime at 11pm on January 31, which would cost �500,000, further delay renovations and upset half of the population. Picture: Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images - Credit: Getty Images

STEVE ANGLESEY on the chimes of doom that ring with Leave.EU's unappealing peal appeal.

Fitting, isn't it, that the final battle of Brexit should be about the noise generated by a collection of ancient, slightly cracked, hollow instruments?

Veteran Eurosceptics Sir Bill Cash (79), David Davis (71) and Sir John Redwood (68) are among those demanding that Big Ben be made to chime at 11pm on January 31, which would cost £500,000, further delay renovations and upset half of the population. Meanwhile Leave.EU have launched a 'Ring for Brexit' crusade, urging churches across the land to ring out on February 1 with "a victory peal" like the one which marked the end of the Second World War.

This Battle of the Bells might sound laughable - especially when its frontline is manned by Mark Francois, the Matalan Mainwaring who Boris Johnson is currently seeking to mollify with his unlikely plan for Brexiteers to "bung a bob for a Big Ben bong". Scoff at your peril, though, for the parallel campaigns offer a fascinating rerun of referendum tactics and one of them is heading towards dangerous territory.

Like the official Leave campaign, the Bongers are Westminster-based, see financial and organisational chaos as a price worth paying to make its political point, and are ludicrous and pompous in equal measure.


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How ludicrous? On January 7 I joked on Twitter that if Francois "was a true patriot he'd scale up the Elizabeth Tower shouting 'BONG' through a loudhailer"; two days later Sky News reported the MP was now "willing to take a big hammer up there and bong it himself". Hilariously, Francois now concedes that if his goal proved unworkable, "the BBC must have a recording of Big Ben chiming they could play at 11pm at no cost whatsoever to taxpayers".

The Bongers' original demands also included a call for pubs to stay open an hour later on January 31, quietly dropped when it was pointed out that most pubs stay open an hour later on Fridays anyway.

As for pomposity, 60 leading Bongers including Cash and Francois wrote to the Sunday Telegraph claiming that "leaving on Jan 31 will help to bring a degree of closure, not just in the House but hopefully among the public as a whole. Allowing Big Ben to chime could help to provide some catharsis in this process." Nonsense (do fans of the losing side get closure and catharsis from watching the winning captain lift the trophy?) which Remainers greeted with derision and which Arron Banks and the hardcore Pealers of Leave.EU no doubt treated with disgust.

For there is no talk of catharsis or hint of conciliation in the 'Ring for Brexit' statement on the Leave.EU website, alongside the usual appeals for your data and your donations. The vibe is more like the opening of Terminator 2, with a carpet of Remainer skulls getting crushed beneath the treads of Arron Schwarzenegger's Skynet hunter-killers.

It begins by saying that the morning of Saturday, February 1 will mark "the triumph of British democracy against a political elite who spent nearly four years trying to delay, sabotage, and deny the clearly expressed will of the British people.

"We suffered through every dirty trick imaginable in their long and protracted campaign to demoralise the country and force our surrender. We never gave up, and we won in the end… February 1 will be the most momentous morning in British history since the glorious day in 1945 when our country celebrated victory over the Nazi regime in Germany."

And that's not even the sinister bit! Here it comes: "Card-carrying Liberal Justin Welby, cosseted in gilded Lambeth Palace won't like this initiative one bit, the Church's hierarchy will do everything to snuff it out. Which is why we appeal directly to patriotic and principled churchgoers to put pressure on their local parish to join in on this epic gesture of national unity."

Put pressure on your local parish, eh? "Nice little religion you've got here, shame if something happened to it." Is that the kind of thing the Pealers of Leave.EU had in mind? The paragraph was later removed from its website.

Happily, the Central Council of Church Bell Ringers has already put a damper on things by pointing out that it "does not endorse bell ringing for political reasons" and other churchfolk have emerged to say that on February 1 they will continue to help their communities rather than indulging in pointless partisan celebrations. So it seems that Arron Banks' unappealing peal appeal will largely be met by the sound of silence.

If so, one wonders what the next Leave.EU headline will be. "Who will rid us of these turbulent priests?" has a nice ring to it.

Nevertheless, while it's easy to dismiss them as a minority of cranks and extremists, Leave.EU is effective. Think the referendum would still have been won without them weaponising migration? Just look how well Nigel Farage's Brexit Party fared in the general election without Banks and his dog whistle.

Therefore it is truly worrying to see the church on their vile little checklist, joining the EU (now sadly ticked off), the fact-checked media, dissenting MPs, electoral safeguards, climate change protesters, the "metropolitan elite", Meghan Markle and the BBC licence fee.

What if what comes after Brexit is something even worse?

Steve's selection - Who's catching his eye this week?

TED VERITY

The Mail on Sunday editor has rebranded February 1, and last week's paper contained a guide to "How our lives will change on Liberation Day".

But was it the kind of thing Paul Dacre's former deputy had in mind? "British airlines will lose access to European air space, which means they won't be able to operate flights from one city to another within the EU," reported Abul Taher and Martin Beckford, also noting that "there could be queues at both Dover and Calais", "food prices may go up", "UK travellers to the EU may lose EHIC benefits and would be urged to take out private health insurance before travel", and we could face "higher roaming charges as the UK might be considered to be the 'rest of the world' zone". Liberation indeed!

THE (BEEF) DRIPS

Nothing annoys Brexiteers more than the idea that their votes may have been based on misinformation. So how to explain Ron Warwick from St Albans, who wrote to his favourite newspaper to declare: "Now that the UK is close to leaving the EU, together with all of the petty restrictions placed by them against us, I have just one New Year wish. Simply that UK residents will again be allowed to eat beef dripping. Two slices of dripping on toast on a winter's day, delicious." Of course beef dripping is not banned in the UK, by the EU or otherwise, and poor Ron has been denying himself his favourite unhealthy snack for years. Naturally though this didn't stop the Daily Express from printing an easily disprovable untruth on their letters page.

MADELINE GRANT

Worried about the European student exchange scheme Erasmus+ ending after Brexit? The Telegraph's assistant comment editor told readers not to fret about their grandkids being denied a year's study abroad as the programme's true purpose was to "breed a gen­eration of com­pli­ant Europhiles".

Grant, pictured, harrumphed that the real Erasmus "would be ap­palled by the lack of rigour and the less than schol­arly aims" - incredible insight into how a 16th century philosopher might deal with the scant evidence she presents, including that "those trav­el­ling to per­pet­u­ally strik­ing French uni­ver­si­ties... of­ten en­joy some­thing nearer a sub­sidised hol­i­day or booze-up than a se­ri­ous course of study". Tell that to one Brit who studied in France thanks to Erasmus, and says the scheme was "a great example of how educational exchange can enhance students' understanding of other European countries". She is the Brexiteer MP Suella Braverman.

ZAC GOLDSMITH

During his failed 2016 campaign to become mayor of London, the son of proto-Brexiteer Sir James Goldsmith wrote in City AM that it was a "belief in democratic accountability that informs my view of the European Union. The most important characteristic of any democracy is that it should be possible for voters to evict those who act in their name. The EU fails on that test. Real power in Brussels rests in institutions that are accountable to no one". On December 12, voters evicted Goldsmith from his jobs as MP for Richmond Park and an environment and development minister. On January 13 he returned to parliament as Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park and will retain a ministerial role, with a £305-a-day attendance allowance supplementing the £1.5m a year he receives from his trust fund. No word yet on how this squares with his belief in democratic accountability.

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