The Big Ben ding-dong over bongs

Summoned by bells: Big Ben is the largest bell in the clock tower. It sounds the note E. © Getty

Would you pay £500,000 for Big Ben to bong? Some people want the famous bells to sound as Britain leaves the EU on 31 January – but others see it as a ridiculous waste of money.

What’s happening

All over Britain this week, people put down their cereal spoons and stared across the breakfast table in disbelief.

What had Boris Johnson just said in his breakfast TV interview? We should “bung a bob for a Big Ben bong”? What was he talking about?

He was referring to an idea started by some of his MPs for the bells of Big Ben to ring out at 11:00pm on 31 January, when the UK is due to leave the EU.

There’s just one problem – the price. At £500,000, the cost of marking Brexit in this way would be just over £45,000 per bong – if the bell strikes 11 times.

Find out more

Why would it be so expensive? The 160-year-old clock has been under restoration since 2017, and the hammer which strikes its bell has been removed. To make it ring again, the hammer needs to be brought back, and a temporary floor built to hold it.

Parliament has played down the idea, while a funding plan promised by Johnson to pay for it turns out not to exist.

But pro-Brexit MPs and some newspapers have called for the bongs to go ahead. Several wealthy donors have pledged to help cover the cost of restoring the clock for the night.

So is Brexit worth £45,000 a bong?

Some say…

Are we crazy? Of course not! There will be no tangible benefits: the sound will only last for a few seconds and then all the equipment will have to be removed again. If people want to use their money to mark Brexit Day, they should plant some oak trees. At least they will be around for 100 years.

Others think…

How miserly, say others. We have bells for victories, bells for weddings and bells for important deaths. The bell of Big Ben should ring out for an historic political moment!

You Decide

  1. What is the symbol of your nation that means the most to you?

Activities

  1. Think about a new monument for your country – something that would make you proud. Now, draw it and label it to explain what it symbolises.

Some People Say...

“National pride is to countries what self-respect is to individuals: a necessary condition for self-improvement.”

Richard Rorty (1931-2007), US philosopher

What do you think?

Word Watch

Bob
Slang for a shilling (5p in today’s money).
MPs
A Member of Parliament (MP) is the person elected by all those who live in a particular area (constituency) to represent them in the House of Commons.
EU
European Union: the economic and political group of European countries that the UK is set to leave at the end of this month.
Restoration
Repair; to bring something back to its old glory.
Parliament
The body of government that represents the voters of the UK and makes laws.
Pro-Brexit
People who are in favour of the UK leaving the EU.
Donors
People who donate something, especially money to charity or (political) causes they want to support.
Tangible
Concrete; solid. Something you can see with your own eyes.
Miserly
Not generous.

Subjects

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