Plumbing company boss refuses to take down giant 'b*****ks to Brexit' sign

Charlie Mullins defies council over 100ft long sign and calls for second referendum 

Adam Lusher
Saturday 06 October 2018 16:49
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Rows over business owner's B-*llocks to Brexit sign

The controversial boss of Pimlico Plumbers is refusing to take down a giant “bollocks to Brexit” sign on the roof of his HQ, despite the local council ordering him to remove it or face prosecution.

Charlie Mullins is citing freedom of speech and a court case involving punk band the Sex Pistols to oppose Lambeth Council’s contention that the 100ft-long sign, visible to train passengers arriving at Waterloo Station, contravenes planning law.

The council says that because the sign does not relate to Mr Mullins’ Pimlico Plumbers business, it does not benefit from ‘deemed consent’ and must be removed under rules set down in the Town and Country Planning Act 1990.

Mr Mullins says the council’s argument is “quite ridiculous” because Brexit is “an assault on businesses everywhere”, including his own.

In defending himself from complaints about the sign’s language, he also cited the 1977 court case in which a former Anglican vicar defended the Sex Pistols album Never Mind The Bollocks from indecency accusations by tracing the root of the word to the Anglo-Saxon for ‘small ball’.

Despite being an ardent admirer of Margaret Thatcher who has donated tens of thousands of pounds to the Conservative party and who recently lost a ‘gig economy’ court case over a plumber’s entitlement to worker’s rights, Mr Mullins erected the bollocks to Brexit sign two weeks ago.

The self-made businessman has emerged as a dogged opponent of Brexit and has publicly called for Theresa May’s cabinet colleagues to “grow a pair and oust her”.

In defending his decision to keep the sign up at his headquarters near London Waterloo, Mr Mullins claimed that the bollocks to Brexit message had been “met with almost universal approval by the thousands of rail users who have passed it every day since it went up.”

Insisting that the sign related directly to his business, he wrote in a blog: “The economic, social, and security impacts of Brexit on businesses and their staff will cost billions in the coming years, so fighting this madness is a matter of business survival.

“So no, I ain't having some busy-body council telling me this ain't about my business!”

“I'm just so livid that a bunch of petty local officials are trying to tell me what's good for my business [and] that I can't even focus on that part of it,” he added. “The sign is staying up and that's that.

“Brexit will be a national disaster if we sit back and let it happen, and I for one will not stand by and let the UK sleepwalk into a nightmare!”

Mr Mullins told London Live his business was already being affected by impending Brexit causing import charges and the price of spare boiler parts to go up, while fewer skilled tradespeople wanted to come to the UK and more were returning to their home countries.

“We need to have a people’s vote,” he said. “Why should we all wind up poorer because of stubborn ministers who haven’t got a clue what they are doing?”

After Lambeth Council reportedly said it had received complaints about the language on the sign, Mr Mullins cited the Sex Pistols court case, where an ex-vicar informed Nottingham magistrates about the origins of the word bollocks.

The November 1977 case occurred after local Virgin Records shop manager Chris Searle was arrested and charged with contravening the Indecent Advertisement Act 1889 by defying police orders to cover up the word ‘bollocks’ in a window display advertising the Sex Pistols album.

Searle, 28, was defended by barrister and Rumpole author John Mortimer, who called Reverend James Kingsley, professor of English studies at Nottingham University, as a witness for the defence.

According to the account provided by the Bombed Out Punk website, the former vicar traced the word to its Anglo-Saxon origins and told the court it appears in Medieval translations of the Bible to describe small spherical objects.

Summing up for the defence, Mortimer asked the magistrates: “What sort of country are we living in if a politician comes to Nottingham and speaks to a group of people in the city centre and during his speech a heckler replies ‘bollocks’?

“Are we to expect this person to be incarcerated, or do we live in a country where we are proud of our Anglo-Saxon language? Do we wish our language to be virile and strong or watered down and weak?”

Grudgingly acquitting Searle, the chairman of the bench was forced to concede: “Much as my colleagues and I wholeheartedly deplore the vulgar exploitation of the worst instincts of human nature for commercial profits by both you and your company, we must reluctantly find you not guilty of each of the four charges.”

In the current bollocks to Brexit dispute, Lambeth Council has stressed that despite receiving complaints about the language, it is not acting over the wording of the sign, because that is regulated by the Advertising Standards Authority.

The council is objecting on the grounds that such a large sign may breach the Town and Country Planning Act if it does not relate to the commercial activities of the business that erected it.

In an email, it stated: “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”.

In a further statement, the council told the New European: “We are considering whether or not the physical advertisement requires advertisement consent under planning controls.

“As part of this process, we contacted the company setting out the normal rules and options available to them.

“If the sign does not have ‘deemed consent’, the options would be to remove it or submit an application to retain it. We have asked the company to confirm their position.

“The planning-related advertising legislation is complex and adverts can be displayed without the need for the council’s consent, subject to various conditions and limitations. If this is the case there is no planning action that can be taken.”

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