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Brexit

‘They will put me in prison first’: UK business owner refuses to take down ‘Bollocks to Brexit’ sign

Charlie Mullins, owner of Pimlico Plumbers in London, has been told by his local council to remove the giant sign, but says he’d rather go to jail

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 06 October, 2018, 4:01am
UPDATED : Saturday, 06 October, 2018, 8:49pm

An outspoken British businessman is prepared to go to prison to keep a giant “Bollocks to Brexit” sign above his London office after he was told to remove it by his local council.

Charlie Mullins, the founder of Pimlico Plumbers and a former Conservative party donor, accused Lambeth borough council of interfering with his freedom of speech and succumbing to people’s sensitivities over a word that was proved in a 1977 case involving the Sex Pistols not to be obscene.

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“We had a sign there previously saying, ‘Nobody voted to be poorer’ for six months and Lambeth did not object,” Mullins said. “They say it has nothing to do with our business, but quite clearly it has everything to do with our business. If there is Brexit we won’t have a business.

“This is just bullying and the advert is not coming down. They will need to put me in prison before that comes down. I am just a business standing up for my rights.”

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The council said it had received complaints from commuters about the sign near Waterloo station and as it was not related to his business, he would have to remove it or apply for planning consent, which he was unlikely to get.

Mullins, who has a workforce of about 440 at Pimlico, which says it is the largest independent plumbing company in the London area, is one of Britain’s best-known backers of the campaign to stop Brexit.

In 2016 he supported Gina Miller’s successful high court bid to give parliament a meaningful vote over the final Brexit deal and he also donated to her End the Chaos campaign to publish facts about Brexit.

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Bollocks to Brexit is the slogan of a grass roots campaign group, which was seen handing out stickers at the recent Labour and Conservative conferences.

Mullins has said he accepts that some commuters may find the word offensive but points to the trial over the cover for the Sex Pistols album Never Mind the Bollocks.

In 1977 the punk band’s reputation soared after a police officer confiscated albums in a shop in Nottingham, arguing that the appearance of the word “bollocks” contravened the 1899 Indecent Advertising Act, forcing shops around the country to sell the album under the counter.

The record was ruled not indecent after the defence barrister John Mortimer QC got an English professor to testify that the word had appeared in medieval bibles, veterinary books and literature – and was a colloquialism for nonsense.

Mullins said that since his sign went up three weeks ago and attracted attention on social media, a media company had offered to provide him with 22 electronic sites for a similar advertisement.

Lambeth council told Mullins that “as the sign is not specifically related to the business of Pimlico Plumbers and is well in excess of the size limits, the sign does not benefit from deemed consent and will therefore either need to be removed ASAP or an application for advert consent submitted”.

It said it would be an offence under the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 to continue to display it without consent.

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Although the council received a number of complaints from the public about language, it pointed out that the content of adverts is a matter for the Advertising Standards Authority.

A Lambeth council spokesman said it was considering “whether or not the physical advertisement requires advertisement consent under planning controls and as part of this process, we contacted the company setting out the normal rules and options available to them”.

It said planning-related advertising legislation is “complex and adverts can be displayed without the need for the council’s consent” but this was subject to various conditions and limitations.