Union Jack, special coins but no Big Ben on Brexit night

British Union Jack Flies in front of the clock face of the tower that houses the Big Ben bell in London on Aug 29, 2019. PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON (AFP) - Britain will issue special coins, fly the Union Jack and project a countdown clock on the walls of Downing Street - but not bong Big Ben - on Brexit night, the government said on Friday (Jan 17).

Prime Minister Boris Johnson will also deliver a special address to the nation, his office said, ending days of debate about how to mark the country's delayed departure from the European Union.

"January 31st is a significant moment in our history as the United Kingdom leaves the EU and regains its independence," a government statement said.

"The government intends to use this as a moment to heal divisions, reunite communities and look forward to the country that we want to build over the next decade."

Brexit supporters are crowdfunding a campaign to get Big Ben - mostly silent since 2017 as its clock tower undergoes restoration work - to strike at 2300 GMT when Brexit finally happens.

It had raised almost half of the £500,000 (S$875,000) it could cost to get the clock's ringing devices reinstalled and the floor supporting its workers set back up.

The idea has infuriated those who voted against Brexit in the 2016 EU membership referendum, and the government has distanced itself from the campaign after initially coming out in strong support.

Instead, plans were laid out for what it said would be "a clock counting down to 11:00 pm projected onto the black bricks of Downing Street".

The Treasury will also release commemorative Brexit coins reading "peace, prosperity and friendship with all nations".

Johnson, who was one of the Brexit campaign figureheads in 2016, "is expected to be one of the first to receive the new coin on the day", the government said.

His team was reportedly forced to melt down the coins prepared for Oct 31, 2019 - the day Johnson originally promised to deliver Brexit after coming to power in July.

It had already been delayed twice by then, costing former leader Theresa May her job.

Looking past Brexit, the cabinet will hold a special cabinet meeting on Jan 31 at a still-undisclosed location in the north of England, that formed the bedrock of Brexit support.

Johnson's Conservative Party won over the north's traditionally Labour voters as it stormed to victory in a snap general election last month.

His government is now focused on locking in those votes for the coming years by spending more on regional development programmes.

Talks to thrash out a new trade deal between London and Brussels are due to begin by early March, once the formal divorce is in place.

But first, Johnson must temper the anger of Brexit supporters who rallied around his call Tuesday to crowdfund "a Big Ben bong," which is estimated to cost £50,000 a peal.

"It's ridiculous, isn't it? The prime minister said: If the people can raise the money then it can happen," Brexit Party chairman Richard Tice fumed in an interview with AFP.

"And now, grungy bureaucrats in the House of Parliament said: Oh no, that's all a bit scary, even if you raise the money you can't spend it on a state asset. It's ridiculous!"

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