Sources in the campaign are expecting even more money to surge into the appeal fund today as news of the appeal spreads. But Downing Street indicated that Boris Johnson had given up hope of Big Ben ringing in the Brexit moment at 11pm on January 31 because the House of Commons Commission was insisting it could not accept the cash. A Government source blamed “intransigence” from the administrative committee for the debacle while senior minister Jacob Rees-Mogg said parliamentary officials “shouldn’t look a gift horse in the mouth.”
Officials have claimed reactivating Big Ben could cost up to £500,000, though the sum is disputed by Brexit supporters and ministers.
In an extraordinary cash surge, the appeal set up by the Stand Up For Brexit campaign group on the GoFundMe crowd-funding site raised more than a quarter of the £500,000 target within 24 hours.
It became the fastest-growing fund on the site.
Money flooded in after the Prime Minister earlier this week suggested that members of the public could “bung a bob for a Big Ben bong.”
But Mr Johnson’s spokesman yesterday said that the Government was now concentrating on separate plans to mark Brexit because the House of Commission had indicated public funding rules could ban accepting the cash.
“The House of Commons authorities have set out that there may be potential difficulties in accepting money from public donations.
“I think the PM’s focus is on the events which he and the Government are planning to mark January 31. It’s a significant moment in our history and we want to ensure that’s properly recorded.”
Big Ben won’t bong to signal our exit from the EU
Asked whether people should contribute to the appeal, the Prime Minister’s spokesman said: “I’m just reflecting that the Parliamentary authorities have set out some potential problems.
“Our focus is on the events that the Government are currently working on.”
Later, another spokesman for the Prime Minister said: “This is a matter for the House, who have indicated they will not accept the money were the public to fundraise for this. The Prime Minister is focused on the Government’s plans to mark January 31.”
At Commons Business Questions yesterday, Commons Leader Mr Rees-Mogg told MPs: “It seems to me with regard to bunging a bob for Big Ben bongs one shouldn’t look gift horses in the mouth and, if people wish to pay for things, I think that should be considered as part of their public-spiritedness rather than feeling that everything should always fall on the hard-pressed taxpayer.”
Leader of the House of Commons Jacob Rees-Mogg
Tory MP Mark Francois, who helped set up the appeal and gave £1,000 to the fund, last night said Commons officials had failed to answer a question he had formerly submitted asking how much was spent reactivating Big Ben to chime on Remembrance Sunday and on New Year’s Eve.
He said: “My question was extremely straightforward. Is there something they are trying to hide?
“What should have been an extremely simple decision is slowly evolving into the British Establishment’s last stand before Brexit.
“As in all previous examples on this, in the end, the people will win.”
Business Secretary Andrea Leadsom has said she donated £10
He added: “As the Prime Minister effectively initiated this campaign live on TV two days ago, and as we are clearly going to hit the target, he would be mad to back away from it.”
A statement from the Commission released earlier this week said: “There has been a suggestion that the cost of striking the Bell could be covered by donations made by the public. This would be an unprecedented approach.
“The House of Commons has well-established means of voting through the expenditure required to allow it to function, and to preserve its constitutional position in relation to Government.
“Any novel form of funding would need to be consistent with the principles of propriety and proper oversight of public expenditure.”
Donations were continuing to pour into the campaign last night. Sources in the campaign were expecting even more cash to arrive today as news of the appeal spread.
Business Secretary Andrea Leadsom has said she donated £10.
Many donors wrote messages of support on the GoFundMe website alongside the record of their contributions.
Roger Thornton, who gave £10, wrote: “The sound of Big Ben would be the best way to emphasise this historic event.”
Chris Bower, who donated £5, said: “I am proud of our democratic decision to leave the EU. It should be celebrated not hidden away like some dirty, sleazy act that we should be ashamed of.”
Timothy Horn, a £20 donor, said: “Like Nigel Farage and millions of others, I believe that finally leaving the EU is a truly historic moment. Whilst it should not be about triumphalism it should nevertheless be celebrated.”
Others donors made jibes about Remain supporters. Patrick Loughran, who gave £5, said: “It’s worth it to give the anti-democratic elitists in London the hump.”
Peter Jay, another £5 donor, said: “I donated because I laugh when hearing Remoaners cry.”
Others mocked anti-Brexit campaigners by registering their donations under the names of prominent Remain supporters including former minister Anna Soubry, senior MEP Guy Verhofstadt and
Rebecca Ryan, founder of Stand Up 4 Brexit, said: “We’ve now successfully raised £100,000 in under 24 hours. This shows the real strength of feeling behind this campaign.
“Thank you to all those who have already donated to the campaign. You can still help us by sharing this with friends on WhatsApp, Facebook, email or Twitter to keep the momentum going.”
She added: “This is a real demonstration of people power. Britons are currently donating more than £80 a minute to the campaign, with an average donation of £16.
“We urge the British public to beat the bureaucrats. Please come together, share the campaign, and ensure that we properly celebrate becoming a free country.”