SNP backlash against prospect of celebrations to mark Brexit day

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The SNP has slammed the prospect of councils and community groups being urged to celebrate Brexit on 31 January.

Ministers are believed to be preparing a package of announcements to mark the moment Britain leaves the EU at the end of this month. These could include a commemorative coin and Big Ben ringing out.

MP Sir John Hayes said that flying the UK flag from public buildings 'would be a fitting tribute to the decision the British people made to leave the European Union'

MP Sir John Hayes said that flying the UK flag from public buildings 'would be a fitting tribute to the decision the British people made to leave the European Union'

One of the items is likely to be a fund from the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government to help councils and other groups buy and display the Union Flag. A Westminster source said: “It’s prompted by Brexit but is also meant to celebrate national identity more broadly.”

The move has been promoted by senior Tory backbencher Sir John Hayes, who said in the Commons last week that flying the UK flag from public buildings “would be a fitting tribute to the decision the British people made to leave the European Union”. Brexit Secretary Steve Barclay replied: “Any opportunity to do so is one that he and I would always celebrate.”

But the move was criticised by SNP foreign affairs spokesman Alyn Smith, who said: “The Tories have completely lost the plot.

“Boris Johnson is asking councils in Scotland to celebrate the fact that jobs and businesses in their local community will be wiped out thanks to Brexit.

“Brexit will be catastrophic for Scotland’s economy, leaving every single person in Scotland worse off.

“We voted overwhelmingly to remain in the EU and we’ve rejected Brexit at every election since – yet the Tories are going to drag Scotland out of Europe against our will.

“But let’s be clear, voters will be given the chance to escape this madness and build a fairer Scotland with a fresh referendum on our future.”

One group of Conservative MPs is lobbying the government to ensure that Big Ben, which is silent for building work, rings out at 11pm on 31 January, the precise moment the UK is no longer a member of the EU.

Strident Brexiteer Mark Francois is leading efforts to get the bell restarted. Commons Speaker Lindsay Hoyle has said he would back the scheme as long as MPs voted in favour, while pro-Brexit businessman Lord Ashcroft has offered to foot the £120,000 cost.

A Downing Street spokesman insisted that no final decisions had been made on how 
31 January will be marked. Some in the government are nervous about holding too many flashy events in case it alienates people who voted Remain.

One idea suggested by ministers would have seen pubs allowed to stay open later so that drinkers could stay up and celebrate, but the plan was scrapped because it was too difficult to put in place at short notice.

Nigel Farage is backing a “Brexit Celebration” event hosted by Leave Means Leave in Parliament Square which is expected to attract thousands of supporters and will feature speechs by senior Brexiteers.

The original date on which Britain was scheduled to leave the EU, 29 March, 2019, saw two rallies outside the House of Parliament – one featuring mainstream politicians and the other organised by the far-right and including Tommy Robinson, which ended up with clashes between police and protesters.