Arch-Eurosceptic Nigel Farage has accused the Government of being “embarrassed” by Brexit over its failure to back the bid for Big Ben to chime on January 31.
As the ding-dong over the bongs descended into farce, Mr Farage claimed Boris Johnson “misled” the public when he suggested people could “bung a bob” to support the campaign.
More than £160,000 has been donated by more than 10,000 people since the StandUp4Brexit fundraiser was launched on the GoFundMe crowdfunding website on Wednesday.
The Prime Minister said on Tuesday that the Government was “working up a plan so people can bung a bob for a Big Ben bong” after Commons authorities ruled out the proposal because it could cost £500,000.
But Downing Street has since sought to distance itself from the campaign, with a Number 10 spokesman insisting the matter is for MPs and that the Prime Minister’s focus is on the Government’s plan to mark exit day.
Mr Farage said: “Boris Johnson has misled people into donating money into the Mark Francois initiative and I should think people are pretty angry about that.
“And on a bigger level, why is it the Government has no intention of marking or celebrating Brexit at all – when after all, this was the issue that won them the election and gave them a majority.
“And it seems to me they are embarrassed by Brexit and it makes me ask the question how much they really believe in it.”
He said the lack of support for the campaign was a “very worrying sign”, and said: “I can see us being mocked all over the world: ‘Britain leaves the EU and they can’t even get a clock to ring’.”
The Brexit Party leader said he did not think ringing Big Ben would be seen as “triumphalist”, but rather that it would be an “important symbol to mark a big moment in our history”.
During a Westminster briefing on Friday morning, a Number 10 spokesman was asked whether the Government would table legislation compelling the Commons authorities to bong Big Ben.
He said: “This is a matter for the House, who have indicated they will not accept the money from the public to fundraise for this…
“The PM’s focus is on the Government’s plans to mark Brexit on January 31.”
Big Ben bong
The spokesman would not be drawn on what the Government’s plans entail, nor whether the PM still believed people should “bung a bob for a Big Ben bong”.
Mr Farage will attend a Leave Means Leave celebration to mark Britain’s exit in Parliament Square on January 31, and said they would “organise some bongs of some kind” if the campaign for Big Ben to sound does not succeed.
Donations to the campaign include £1,000 from Tory Brexiteer Mr Francois, while Business Secretary Andrea Leadsom promised £10.
Meanwhile, the European Parliament confirmed that the Union flag which flies above the building in Strasbourg will be lowered after Britain’s exit and sent to the House of European History.
A spokesman said there would not be a flag-lowering ceremony, but the parliament’s president David Sassoli will host a farewell ceremony to members to mark the departure of British MEPs.