Number 10 repeatedly refused to answer questions about Boris Johnson sparking a doomed campaign to ring Big Ben to mark Brexit .
The Prime Minister’s deputy spokesman dodged questions on whether the PM had consulted Parliamentary authorities before urging the public to “bung a bob” for the bell to be rung.
He was asked 23 times about the debacle – and about Mr Johnson’s plans for Brexit night – during the daily Number 10 briefing.
But he would only repeat variations of : “This is a matter for the House who have indicated that they will not accept the money.
“The Prime Minister is focussed on the government’s plans to mark Brexit on January on the 31st of January.”
An online whip-round raised £160,000 in the hopes of paying for the enormous chime to be struck at 11pm on January 31.
But Brexiteers are on course for a crushing disappointment, after Commons authorities indicated crowdfunded money wouldn’t be accepted even if they hit their £500,000 target.
Some 10,000 people have chipped in for the crowdfunder.
But organisers StandUp4Brexit warned they would need to secure the money by the weekend if there was any hope of ringing the bell on January 31.
“We are confident of doing so but, if for any reason we fall short of the £500,000 target, the fund will be donated to Help for Heroes,” the GoFundMe page reads.
“Similarly if we exceed the target any surplus will also be donated to the same charity.”
The page also states a 2.9% payment processing charge plus a 25p fee applies to every transaction – meaning they would need to raise at least a further £17,500 on top of the £500,000 target.
The Elizabeth Tower, which holds the Great Bell known as Big Ben, is being restored.
The issue was discussed at a meeting of the House of Commons Commission on Monday. But the cost was estimated at £500,000 – so the idea was ditched.
A temporary floor of the belfry would also need to be installed as “extensive work is currently taking place in this area.” The total costs of this would be £120,000.
But it would in turn push back the works by two to four weeks, and with delays costing £100,000 a week, the total cost would come to between £320,000 and £500,000.
But that didn’t stop Boris Johnson encouraging punters to “bung a bob” to pay for it.
Dozens of crowdfunding pages were set up, most of them attracting no donations at all.
But the one organised by StandUp4Brexit, a campaign group originally launched to oppose Theresa May ’s deal and push for a harder Brexit, secured the backing of Tory MP Mark Francois.
It’s since attracted donations at a rate of £80 a minute, with an average donation of £16, according to organisers.
In a statement, founder Rebecca Ryan and Mr Francois said: “We urge the British public to beat the bureaucrats. Please come together, share the campaign, and ensure that we properly celebrate becoming a free country.”
Mr Francois had earlier accused the House of Commons authorities of exaggerating the cost of bringing the bell – which has been silent since 2017 – back into operation.
In a video posted on the fundraising site, Mr Francois said he is “delighted to announce that our Eurosceptic colleagues from StandUp4Brexit have agreed to host a crowdfunding campaign to help raise half a million pounds so that Big Ben can chime at 11pm on the 31st of January”.
Mr Francois said it is “inconceivable” that the clock used to mark the UK’s departure from the EU “could be any other than the most iconic timepiece on Earth, which is Big Ben”.
Donations to the campaign include £1,000 from Mr Francois, while Business Secretary Andrea Leadsom promised £10.