Theresa May has used her first Christmas message as Prime Minister to call on British people to “come together” after a year of divisions over the Brexit referendum.
Mrs May said it is important to “unite our country” as Britain seeks a “bold” new role on the world stage outside the European Union.
Her words may be seen as an attempt to address the splits between supporters and opponents of EU membership exposed by the June 23 vote, won by Leave by a 52%-48% margin.
At a time when families are coming together for the festive break, Mrs May said: “Coming together is also important for us as a country. As we leave the European Union we must seize an historic opportunity to forge a bold new role for ourselves in the world and to unite our country as we move forward into the future.
“And, with our international partners, we must work together to promote trade, increase prosperity and face the challenges to peace and security around the world.”
Mrs May stressed that 2016 has seen much for Britain celebrate, including the Queen’s 90th birthday and successes in the Olympic and Paralympic Games.
In a separate video message to the armed forces, she promised to do more to help servicemen and women and their families in 2017, to show them that “this government is on your side”.
Describing Britain’s troops as “the finest in the world”, the Prime Minister said: “Over this holiday period, there will be around 5,000 members of our armed forces deployed on operations – in the desert, at sea, even under the sea operating our continuous nuclear deterrent. While even those who are able to be here in the UK will, in many cases, be on standby to deal with domestic incidents like the flood relief that so many of you helped with during your Christmas breaks last year.
“Just as your commitment to our country is unfaltering, so in return we owe you the same deep commitment and unflinching support. So as I made clear when I met some of your families on Salisbury Plain earlier this year, we will honour the commitments we have made to you, including helping you to buy your own home and providing support for your children in school.
“And, as we go into 2017, I know there is more we can do to help and I am determined that we should do so. Because I want you - and all your families - to know that this Government is on your side.”
In her message to the nation, Mrs May said that, as the daughter of a vicar, she was aware of the demands placed on those who have to work over Christmas. She offered her gratitude to health and care workers, emergency services and members of the armed forces who will be separated by duty from their families and friends during the festivities.
Noting the persecution faced by Christians in other parts of the world at Christmas, she voiced her determination “to stand up for the freedom of people of all religions to practise their beliefs in peace and safety”.
She concluded: “Wherever you are this Christmas, I wish you joy and peace in this season of celebration, along with health and happiness in the year ahead.”