No Brexit Day plan for Big Ben as countdown clock to light up No 10

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Flags in WestminsterImage source, Getty Images

A clock counting down to the moment the UK leaves the EU on 31 January will be projected on to Downing Street as part of government plans to mark Brexit Day.

The clock will tick down to 23:00 GMT, while Prime Minister Boris Johnson will give a "special" address to the nation in the evening, the government said.

A special 50p coin will also enter circulation to mark the occasion.

But the plans do not include Big Ben chiming, after Commons authorities said the cost could not be justified.

A campaign to find the £500,000 needed to make Big Ben ring when the UK leaves the EU has raised more than £200,000, but the House of Commons Commission cast doubt on whether it was permitted to use public donations to cover the costs.

Millionaire businessman Arron Banks and the Leave Means Leave group donated £50,000 to the campaign.

Downing Street has said the prime minister will chair a cabinet meeting in the north of England during the day, to discuss spreading "prosperity and opportunity".

He will then make a special address to the nation in the evening.

Mr Johnson is expected to be one of the first people to receive one of the newly-minted 50p coins, which will bear the motto "peace, prosperity and friendship with all nations".

Buildings around Whitehall will be lit up to mark Brexit, with the government saying that, "in response to public calls, the Union Jack will be flown on all of the flag poles in Parliament Square".

The government says it will use the "significant moment in our history" to "heal divisions, re-unite communities and look forward to the country that we want to build over the next decade."

Image caption,
The exterior of the prime minister's residence will be the backdrop for the Brexit countdown

However, hopes have faded that Big Ben - which is currently out of action due to renovation work going on at the Houses of Parliament - will chime to mark the moment the UK leaves the EU.

Earlier this week, Mr Johnson told BBC Breakfast he wanted the public to raise funds to ensure this can happen.

But Downing Street later distanced itself from the campaign, with a spokesman saying the prime minister's focus was on the government plan for marking the day, and that Big Ben was a matter for MPs.

The House of Commons Commission estimates the cost will be up to £500,000, and it has raised concerns over the "unprecedented approach" of using donations to fund the project.

It says this would involve bringing back the chiming mechanism and installing a temporary floor, resulting in delays to the conservation work.

The campaign group Stand Up 4 Brexit set up an online appeal to raise the money, collecting more than £200,000 by Friday evening.

'Inflated the figure'

Conservative MP Mark Francois told BBC Radio 4's The World at One that the pro-Brexit Leave Means Leave campaign and Mr Banks had donated £50,000.

He queried whether the cost of getting the bell to ring again was really £500,000, adding that he believed officials had "deliberately inflated the figure" because "they don't want to do it".

It comes as Downing Street has said EU citizens will not automatically be deported if they fail to sign up to the settled status scheme by the 2021.

Under the settlement scheme, EU citizens living in the UK can apply to stay in the country after Brexit.

So far the number of applicants to the scheme has hit more than 2.7 million.