One might have expected a big noisy Vote Leave celebratory extravaganza on the evening of January 31. There will be a few private events from that quarter. But no large public one.
Perhaps the mass of the pro-Brexit movement feels that it has gained the result it wanted – doubly so given December’s election result – and that it must be up bright and early, on February 1, to roll up its sleeves to work on national renewal. Which would not be easily married to partying late the previous night.
Or perhaps there is an unwillingness to rub the ultra-Remainers’ noses in it. Or maybe there is a sense of exhaustion. Who knows?
At any rate, this is the context in which to see the campaign to ring Big Ben at 11pm on January 31, with all the bing bang bong opportunities it has given to Fleet Street’s headline writers.
Mark Francois and company want to bung, ho ho, £500,000 to the body responsible for making a decision – namely the House of Commons Commission – the apparent cost of ringing Big Ben on that date at that time. We doubt the real bill is anything as high as that. For as we all know, it’s wonderful what a committee can do when it’s willing.
The Commission says that there is no precedent for taking the money – although statues have sometimes been funded by public subscription and room found for them by public authorities. But where there’s no will, as in this case, there is also no way – even though Boris Johnson has broken cover to encourage an appeal.
As we write, the whole business is going round in circles. Francois is still raising funds and has reached roughly half his target. The Commission points to the Government, with some suggesting that if the Prime Minister really wants Big Ben to bong, the taxpayer should stump up. Meanwhile, the Government points back at the Commission.
It’s clear that the best means of resolving the matter is a Commons vote early next week. On the one hand, we doubt very much that a motion in favour of the plan would pass, even if the £500,000 target is reached. The Early Day Motion supporting it has 55 signatories, all of them Conservative or DUP.
That doesn’t look like nearly enough to win a free vote – let alone one that must produce the overwhelming assent that is arguably necessary for the project, like those statues or war memorials, to gain the consent required.
On the other, Johnson would presumably vote for the plan, which both Ministers and backbenchers would see as a bit of a signal. Either way, a question follows. What are the Government’s own plans for marking the end of an era and the start of a new one?