London (AFP) - Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Tuesday said the government was working on a crowdfunding plan to get the currently silent Big Ben to chime when Britain leaves the European Union.
Some eurosceptic lawmakers have been pushing for a celebratory peal to mark Brexit at 2300 GMT on January 31, despite the tower in which the world-famous bell is housed being closed for repairs.
Former House of Commons speaker John Bercow rejected the request, but hopes were raised when he was replaced just before last month's general election.
But it again appears to be ruled out on cost grounds: the Commons Commission, which runs parliament, has found an exceptional bong could cost around £500,000 ($650,000, 580,000 euros).
Johnson, though, said all was not lost.
"The bong cost £500,000 but we're working a plan so people can bung a bob for a Big Ben bong because there are some people who want to," he told BBC television.
A bob is the equivalent of five pence and a slang expression for money.
"Because Big Ben is being refurbished, they seem to have taken the clapper away, so we need to restore the clapper in order to bong Big Ben on Brexit night," the prime minister said.
"And that's expensive, so we're looking at whether the public can fund it."
Downing Street could not say exactly how this would operate, however, and explained there was no specific government fund.
A spokesman said: "We will make sure that -- whatever happens in regard to Big Ben's bongs -- January 31 is properly marked. It is a significant moment in our history."
- '£50,000 a bong' -
Conservative MP and arch Brexiteer Mark Francois, of the European Research Group, has been trying to drum up support for a Brexit bong of Big Ben, which attracts tourists from around the world.
"I've already offered to go up Big Ben... to ring the bell myself to save money," he was quoted as telling the Daily Telegraph newspaper.
"If all else fails, the BBC must have a recording they could play at 11:00 pm at no cost whatosever to taxpayers."
But new House of Commons Speaker Lindsay Hoyle said the cost could not be justified for a bell that would only be heard by those living near or visiting Westminster.
"You are talking about £50,000 a bong," he said.
Bringing the "bonging" mechanism back, testing it and allowing it to chime, and building and then removing a temporary floor to the belfry, is estimated to cost £120,000.
But a further £100,000 a week could be lost by the delay to ongoing conservation work.
The famous bell, housed in the Elizabeth Tower of the Palace of Westminster in central London, has been silent since August 2017 due to major renovations scheduled to last four years.
An exception is made for Remembrance Sunday and the New Year.
To mark Brexit day, the Leave.EU group wants "patriots to ring the bell of their local church... to celebrate Britain's new-found independence!"
The "Bells for Victory" peal is planned for February 1.
"If the powers that be don't like it? We'll do it anyway!" the group vowed.