Boris Johnson’s $160,000 Blunder Over Big Ben Brexit Bongs

Thomas Penny

(Bloomberg) -- Part of British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s appeal as a politician is that he shoots from the hip and freely speaks his mind. But Johnson’s latest spontaneous pronouncement has left his officials struggling to clear up a mess that has already cost the public 122,000 pounds ($160,000).

Johnson supported calls for Big Ben, the bell in the clock tower that rises above Parliament, to be rung to mark the moment the U.K. leaves the European Union at 11 p.m. on Jan. 31. He said his officials were “working up a plan so that people can bung a bob for a Big Ben bong” to cover the costs. The problem is, the plan did not exist.

After Johnson’s comments, in a TV interview on Tuesday, viewers started donating cash to cover the estimated 500,000 pound cost of ringing Big Ben for Brexit. The bell is currently silenced while the clock tower undergoes refurbishment. Making it ready to ring would involve stopping the repair work, building a temporary floor under the bell and reinstalling and testing the mechanism.

So far more than 122,000 pounds has been raised on crowd-funding websites even though the Parliamentary authorities made clear the work would set back the program of urgent repairs by as much as a month.

The House of Commons Commission also said it would be “unprecedented” to pay for the work through donations and “any novel form of funding would need to be consistent with principles of propriety and proper oversight of public expenditure.”

By Thursday afternoon, Johnson’s exasperated spokesman Jamie Davies was left repeating the same answer to all questions from reporters. “It’s a matter for the House,” he said. “Our focus is on our plans to mark Brexit on Jan. 31. We’ll set out our plans as soon as we can.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Thomas Penny in London at tpenny@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Tim Ross at tross54@bloomberg.net

For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com

Subscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.