STEPHEN GLOVER: There’s no need for a ding-dong, but Big Ben SHOULD ring out for Brexit 

January 31 will be a big day. We leave the European Union. In fact, we won’t really, as Britain will continue to pay billions into the EU budget and obey EU law during the transition period, which Boris Johnson has assured us won’t last longer than a year.

But let’s not quibble. Symbolically we are leaving, even if technically we’re not. Brexiteers will be happy in varying degrees. I suspect quite a lot of Remainers won’t be particularly unhappy. But some will.

So should Big Ben, which is undergoing restoration along with the tower in which it’s housed, be revived at a supposed cost of £500,000 so that it can strike 11 bongs at 11pm? The reason it’s not 12am, incidentally, is that we’re an hour behind Europe. We leave at midnight European time.

And should church bells up and down the country ring out in joy to celebrate our release from the EU after 47 years — doubtless causing grief and anguish to some of our fellow countrymen who voted Remain?

A view on the clock face of ‘Big Ben’ in Central London, Britain, 15 January 2020. Brexit campaigners have lead lobbied for the bell inside the tower to chime, for the first time since restoration work has taken place, on 31 January 2020 to mark the UK leaving the European Union

Brexiteer Tory MPs are flexing their muscles. Bishops are expressing alarm. Nigel Farage is planning to throw the party to end all parties in Parliament Square.

Meanwhile, a Lib Dem peer by the name of Lord Greaves thinks official celebrations to mark Brexit could upset Remainers and EU citizens, and lead to scenes reminiscent of Nazi Germany. A touch over the top? A teeny-weeny bit exaggerated?

In short, the manner of our departure threatens to be as divisive and fractious as the nightmarish past three-and-a-half years have been.

May I suggest a way forward that recognises the immense significance of January 31 without rubbing the noses of committed Remainers in the dirt? It involves letting Big Ben bong, and keeping nationwide bell-ringing to a minimum.

he new cable being attached to the chiming bell with Big Ben behind Rehang of the chimming bells, St Stephens Tower, Houses of Parliament, Westminster

he new cable being attached to the chiming bell with Big Ben behind Rehang of the chimming bells, St Stephens Tower, Houses of Parliament, Westminster

Big Ben is a national symbol. When it strikes the hour — though it is mostly silent during the absurdly prolonged four-year restoration of the Elizabeth Tower — it marks out time for the British State.

No one thinks, on hearing the inimitable sound of Big Ben, of celebration. It is just formidably there — through wars, successive governments and political upheavals, as it was when our grandparents were alive, and their grandparents before them.

That is why, even while the tower that houses it is being lengthily restored (I expect the Chinese could build a dozen brand new replicas in four years), Big Ben has been allowed to strike on Remembrance Sunday and New Year’s Eve.

Why not on the day we leave the European Union? Our departure is a huge national event, whether you like it or not, and that is what Big Ben is in the business of noting.

A banner placed by anti Brexit campaigners outside Parliament in London, Wednesday, Jan. 15, 2020. The Big Ben bell of Britain's Parliament has been largely silent since 2017 while its iconic clock tower undergoes four-years of renovation

A banner placed by anti Brexit campaigners outside Parliament in London, Wednesday, Jan. 15, 2020. The Big Ben bell of Britain’s Parliament has been largely silent since 2017 while its iconic clock tower undergoes four-years of renovation

There’s no doubt that during the May administration the authorities did their damnedest to ensure Big Ben wouldn’t ring out on Brexit day, which was originally intended to be March 31 last year.

Speaker John Bercow (who was chairman of a body called the House of Commons Commission, which oversees such matters) was predictably opposed.

Unfortunately, even in the Boris Johnson era, the powers that be have been doing their best to ensure there are no bongs on January 31.

The new Commons Commission first of all announced that pressing Big Ben into temporary action would cost £120,000. That figure quickly rose to an implausibly high £500,000.

Speaker John Bercow (who was chairman of a body called the House of Commons Commission, which oversees such matters) was predictably opposed

Speaker John Bercow (who was chairman of a body called the House of Commons Commission, which oversees such matters) was predictably opposed

Sir Lindsay Hoyle, and the Commission seem to be doing their utmost to throw as many spanners as they can find into the works

Sir Lindsay Hoyle, and the Commission seem to be doing their utmost to throw as many spanners as they can find into the works

A temporary floor that was expensively installed to allow Big Ben to herald the New Year has been removed, and would have to be replaced. Why? Surely a sensible person in favour of enabling the bells to ring would have kept the floor in place.

One way and another, the new speaker, Sir Lindsay Hoyle, and the Commission seem to be doing their utmost to throw as many spanners as they can find into the works.

Nevertheless, encouraged by Mr Johnson, a crowdfunding scheme to raise the money is now under way, though the foot-dragging Commission says it would be ‘unprecedented’ for it to accept public donations.

The Commission has also indicated that it will need two weeks’ notice to get Big Ben bonging. That means the money-raisers — Tory MP Mark Francois is among the prime movers — need to get their skates on.

Tory MP Mark Francois (pictured above) is among the prime movers. The Commission said it needs two weeks notice for the bell to ring

Tory MP Mark Francois (pictured above) is among the prime movers. The Commission said it needs two weeks notice for the bell to ring

I hope the money is raised — though I doubt whether as much as half a million pounds is really needed — and that someone will put a couple of fireworks under the ‘can’t do’ Speaker and the hidebound Commission.

It’s not the biggest issue in the world, of course, but it seems right that the nation’s clock should observe such a historic occurrence in the nation’s life.

Ringing church bells across the country is another matter. This traditionally happens at the end of a war, or to commemorate such an event, as happened in 2015 on the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II.

It is an act of celebration and, for the religious, an occasion to give thanks to God, and to offer prayers to Him, after being delivered from a great danger.

A lot of people will think Brexit is just such an occasion — an opportunity to rejoice at escaping from the restrictive maw of Brussels. That is certainly how I feel.

Pictured above is a GoFundMe page from different parts of the country that are raising money for Big Ben to bong

Pictured above is a GoFundMe page from different parts of the country that are raising money for Big Ben to bong

The trouble is that some of our fellow citizens think differently. For them, January 31 will be a day of mourning. I hope time will prove their fears unfounded. I believe Britain will prosper, and I’m sure people will continue to visit Europe as easily and naturally they have always done.

But at this precise moment a lot of triumphalist bell-ringing wouldn’t represent sensitive behaviour by exultant Leavers towards morose Remainers.

In any case, it simply won’t happen. I know that in my home town of Oxford (70 per cent Remain) not a single church bell will clang. It’s a lot more likely that the EU flag will be flown at half-mast.

That said, if people want to ring bells in overwhelmingly Leave areas, why shouldn’t they be allowed to do so, as long as the local vicar is agreeable?

Perhaps a peal of bells will ring out from the beautiful parish church of Boston in Lincolnshire, in which town 75 per cent of the population voted Leave.

Such festivities, where they occur, should be organised spontaneously and locally, and without any taint of braggadocio. Brexiteers should remember that not everyone shares their euphoria.

By the way, Remainer bishops — some of whom have been laying down the law against bell-ringing — would do well to keep out of it. They should also remember that research suggests a higher proportion of Anglican churchgoers voted Leave than the general population.

Nationally, let it be Big Ben that ushers in this momentous change in its dignified and inscrutable way. If I were a Remainer, I think I would welcome it.

Somehow that familiar bong would tell me that a new era had opened and that, at any rate for the foreseeable future, there was no going back. A reason, at least, for hoping for the best.

As for Brexiteers, better ring church bells across the country in ten years’ time when their dreams have been fulfilled. This is not the moment for crowing if this country’s terrible divisions are going to be healed.

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