Boris Johnson’s Parliamentary aide has ridiculed fellow MPs who plan to ‘mourn’ Big Ben’s final bongs before it falls silent for four years.
Tory MP Conor Burns, who is the Foreign Secretary’s Principal Private Secretary, suggested that those who intended to ‘bow’ their heads at noon on Monday were political has-beens and dismissed the whole row as “nonsense”.
“When you see the footage [on Monday] of our colleagues who gather at the foot of Big Ben you will not see too many colleagues who have careers ahead of them,” Burns told the BBC.
The world famous, 157-year old clock tower is undergoing vital repairs and the bell will be taken out of service – apart from Remembrance Sunday and New Year’s Eve – until 2021 to protect the hearing of workers.
Theresa May is among those who have declared “it can’t be right” that Big Ben is kept silent for so long and up to 20 MPs of different parties are expected to take part in a sombre tribute.
Labour MP Stephen Pound told the Press Association that he and “like-minded traditionalists” from the Commons will gather at noon “with our heads bowed but hope in our hearts”.
Burns told BBC Radio 4’s Westminster Hour: “There has been the most enormous amount of nonsense talked about this .. Colleagues saying The House of Commons Commission is achieving something that even the Luftwaffe couldn’t achieve, stopping Big Ben.
“Big Ben was silenced for maintenance in 2007, it was refurbished between ’83 and ’85, it blew up in 1976 and was offline for a little while. All I would say about it is I look forward to getting back to September and back down to business.”
Tory MP and former deputy speaker Nigel Evans made an eleventh hour plea for the plans to be halted, claiming those involved in the decision-making process have been “kept blind” about how long the bell would fall silent for.
“My own view is that Big Ben, whether it be the Elizabeth Tower or indeed the bell inside, it’s not just one of the most iconic British things, it’s one of the most iconic world things, it’s on a Unesco site,” he said.
But Pound, May, Evans and other traditionalists have also been criticised by Labour MPs who think the whole row is a distraction.
Jeremy Corbyn has declared the bell’s silencing is “not a national catastrophe or disaster” and backed trade unions who say workers’ hearing has to be protected.
It takes half a day to lift and re-engage the huge bell once it has been disconnected, with Commons authorities saying that makes it impractical to allow a daily striking of the hour after workers have finished their shift.
Liberal Democrat MP Tom Brake said the House of Commons Commission, which is responsible for the Palace of Westminster’s maintenance, encouraged the public to turn up to witness the halting of the bell’s bongs.
The Commission, which is made up of MPs, officials, lay members, and chaired by Commons Speaker John Bercow, will now consider the length of time that the bells will fall silent.