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'Just to hear a bell ring?' Westminster rough sleepers on the Big Ben Brexit bong fund

James Morris
Senior news reporter, Yahoo News UK
David and Magda in Westminster on Friday morning (James Morris)

“Just to hear a bell ring?”

David, a rough sleeper, has just been told thousands of people have donated more than £150,000 for Big Ben to “bong” on Brexit day.

David is sitting outside Westminster Tube station, metres away from the famous clock tower across the road.

Over the past week, leading Brexiteers have been campaigning for Big Ben to chime and mark the UK’s departure from the EU at 11pm on January 31.

David has been sleeping rough outside the Houses of Parliament for the last three months, in full view of the same MPs and political leaders who are embroiled in the row.

David standing in front of Big Ben on Friday (James Morris)

Speaking to Yahoo News UK on Friday morning, he is incredulous that a fundraising campaign would be set up for such a cause.

“I think it’s silly,” he says, “especially when there are all these people on the streets. Just to hear a bell ring?

“It could go to hospitals, or anything. It’s just silly. That’s just people with too much money.”

He goes on: “That money could be spent on… anything’s better than that. Come on. Wow, that’s insane money.

Big Ben is currently undergoing renovations and it would cost up to £500,000 for it to 'bong for Brexit' (ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP via Getty Images)

“There’s a lot of other things, like the hospitals. Even policing. One hundred and fifty thousand pounds just to hear it ring?”

By 2.30pm on Friday, the fund had hit £220,000 after the Leave Means Leave campaign and Leave.EU founder Arron Banks dropped a £50,000 donation.

Yahoo News UK counted nine rough sleepers in and around the Tube station on Friday morning.

One of them, named Magda, says that number can reach up to 20.

Magda in Westminster on Friday (James Morris)

She has been homeless since 2014 after not being able to find work. When told about the Big Ben fund, she is indifferent: “If they want to pay for that kind of… for the ‘bong’… that’s OK.

“For me, they can spend their money for themselves. Maybe some others [can donate] for the homeless people.”

Yahoo News UK approached Conservative MP Luke Hall, the minister with responsibility for homelessness, but did not receive a response.

On Tuesday, Boris Johnson floated the prospect of people “bunging a bob for a Big Ben bong”.

The fundraising campaign, spearheaded by arch-Brexiteer Tory MP Mark Francois, was duly set up.

However, Number 10 was forced into an embarrassing U-turn on Thursday as the prime minister’s official spokesman said House of Commons authorities had raised “potential difficulties in accepting money from public donations”.

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The fundraising campaign has continued unperturbed, however. Mr Francois called for “the British public to beat the bureaucrats” and “ensure that we properly celebrate becoming a free country”.

If the campaign fails to reach its £500,000 target by the weekend, it has promised to donate the money to the Help for Heroes charity.

Brexit: 14 days until Britain is scheduled to leave the EU