Brexiteers have been dealt a big New Year blow after their campaign to get Big Ben to bong for Brexit on January 31 has been dashed.
An amendment to the withdrawal agreement bill to get the famous bell to ring to “celebrate” the UK’s departure from the European Union, was not selected by the Speaker’s office for debate by MPs.
A group of MPs backing a hard-Brexit had petitioned for the bell to ring, and were jubilant before Christmas when the new Speaker Sir Lyndsay Hoyle gave his backing, as reported by the Westminster-Daily.
However, the Independent report today that the Speaker’s office has told them that Hoyle has decided the amendment required for the bell to ring, should not be debated by MPs.
The Commons is scheduled to scrutinise Boris Johnson’s withdrawal bill over the next three days when they will have the opportunity to debate the amendments to it – although the bill is expected to sail through unchanged, given the size of the prime minister’s majority.
Amendments the Speaker has allowed for debate include Labour’s call for a two year extension to the transition period if the PM does not secure a free trade deal with the EU by the end of 2020; and one tabled by a cross-party group of politicians representing Northern Ireland’s business community.
Their amendment includes legislation to compensate NI business affected by Brexit as well as continued “unfettered” access between Northern Ireland and Great Britain in light of an EU customs border down the Irish Sea.
‘We want to keep this simple’
The document listing all the amendments proposed and selected for debate runs to 75 pages but the Brexit minister James Duddrigde told BBC’s Politics Live the government was not planning to accept any of them.
“Our focus will be getting the bill through as it is,” said Duddrigde, explaining there had already been a lot of changes made to the bill “historically, referencing the actual differences between the pre- and post-election versions of the withdrawal agreement bill published by the government.
Duddridge continued: “So I don’t think the government will be minded to make any changes or accept any amendments. We want to keep this bill simple”.
Farage promises fireworks – ERG has hope
Leader of the Brexit Party Nigel Farage is promising fireworks, bands and speakers on the final Friday of this month with plans announced for a £100,000 party in Parliament Square to celebrate the end of the UK’s near 47 year relationship with the EU.
Meanwhile, Tories led by former Brexit secretary David Davis, members of the European Research Group (ERG) and five DUP MPs still have hope Big Ben will be part of the events heralding the separation, with Downing Street yet to unveil their own planned events.
£61 million to renovate tower
The bell rang for New Year celebrations but is otherwise silent because of £61 million worth of renovation work underway on the Elizabeth Tower which houses Big Ben and the clock-face.
The cost of renovating the 315ft Grade 1 listed tower has more than doubled since work began. The bell is not in place during the renovation work and the cost of reattaching it to ring on January 31, and then be removed for work to continue, is unknown.
Boris Johnson and his chancellor Sajid Javid today did unveil plans relating to the delayed March 11 budget with ministers instructed to “root out any waste, particularly anything that is not aligned with the government’s priorities and demonstrate value for money of every pound of taxpayers’ money that we spend,” report the Guardian.