UK government announces Brexit day plans

A crowd funding campaign is underway to allow Big Ben to mark the hour of Britain’s departure from the EU

The Union flag flutters near the clockface of Big Ben during ongoing renovations to the Tower and the Houses of Parliament, in central London on January 7, 2020. / AFP / Adrian DENNIS
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The British government has announced plans to mark the country’s departure from the European Union on January 31.

The government hailed the date as a significant moment in British history and says it intends to use the event to bring communities back together and “heal divisions”.

Government ministers are due to hold a special meeting in the north of England to discuss Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s plans for the country’s future outside of the bloc.

Mr Johnson is expected to deliver a special address to the nation in the evening as 10 Downing Street, the prime minister’s residence, counts down to the 11pm deadline with a light display.

Government buildings in central London are also due to be lit up to celebrate the arrival of Brexit, and the Union Jack is due to be flown from flag poles outside the Houses of Parliament.

The government has also announced that a commemorative Brexit coin will also come into circulation on the day the country leaves the EU.

The prime minister is expected to be one of the first to get his hands on the new coin, which reads ‘Peace, prosperity and friendship with all nations’.

The announcement came as a campaign got underway to make Big Ben ring to mark the hour Britain leaves the bloc.

Big Ben has been mostly silent since restoration work on parliament's Elizabeth Tower, which houses the clock, began in 2017.

Parliamentary authorities say the floor in the tower workers use to look after the bell has been removed and the ringing devices taken out.

Putting it all together again in time to allow the bell to ring would apparently cost up to £500,000 (Dh 2.4 million).

Mr Johnson proposed a crowd funding campaign that keeps taxpayers from footing the bill, which works out to £50,000 per bong.

The House of Commons Commission that runs parliament ruled that out citing it as breach in rules on financial donations. But that has failed to stop the flow of cash to a GoFundMe campaign.

The site had attracted nearly £250,000 in just over a day.

The Leave Means Leave campaign of British businessman Arron Banks chipped in Friday with £50,000.

But it might be a wasted effort in what some are decrying as a very British "farce".

Arch-Brexiteer Nigel Farage stepped up to accuse Johnson's government of being "embarrassed by Brexit".

"I can see us being mocked all over the world: 'Britain leaves the EU and they can't even get a clock to ring'," he told the Press Association news agency.

Britain voted in a 2016 referendum to become the first nation to leave the 28-nation EU bloc, but the process has moved more slowly than expected.

A transition period will last until the end of 2020 as negotiators try to forge a trade arrangement between Britain and the remaining EU nations.