Boris Johnson is urging Britons to “celebrate the good that is to come” in his first Christmas message as prime minister.
In a video, Mr Johnson thanked those NHS staff, police, armed forces members and public servants who will be working over the festive period.
He also vowed to tackle the “persecution” of Christians around the world.
The prime minister will be spending Christmas Day in Downing Street with his girlfriend Carrie Symonds and their dog Dilyn.
In a breezy opening to his Christmas message, Mr Johnson said he was “taking a moment to wish you all a merry little Christmas”.
He added: “I hope you are all enjoying a wonderful break with your loved ones, sharing gifts and tucking into some delicious food.
“Of course, as many of us are enjoying a break at this time of year, let’s not forget all those who have selflessly put their celebrations on hold.
“On behalf of the whole country, I want to say a huge thank you to our amazing NHS staff, many of whom will be working throughout the holidays to take care of us.
“Thank you also to our police, and all those public servants working tirelessly this Christmas.
“I also want to express my personal gratitude to the wonderful members of our armed forces currently on deployment – and therefore to their friends, family and children back home who will have an empty chair at the table when they tuck in to their Christmas dinner.”
The prime minister also noted how, for some Christians around the world, “Christmas Day will be marked in private, in secret, perhaps even in a prison cell”.
“As prime minister, that’s something I want to change,” he said.
“We stand with Christians everywhere, in solidarity, and will defend your right to practice your faith.”
Mr Johnson ended his message with a call for the country to “reflect on the year, and celebrate the good that is to come”.
“Folks, I hope you enjoy the next few days,” he said.
“Try not to have too many arguments with the in-laws, or anyone else.”
Jeremy Corbyn, in what will almost certainly be his last Christmas message as Labour leader, admitted it had been “a difficult year for many of us” following his party’s heavy election defeat.
He said: “We didn’t succeed in delivering the change that so many people so desperately need.
“But Christmas is a chance to listen, reflect and remember all the things that bind us together: our compassion, our determination to tackle injustice and our hope for a better world.”
The Labour leader also offered his thanks to “brilliant” NHS staff and “all those who work in our public services, who will keep us safe over Christmas”.
He praised the “generosity” and “solidarity” of communities at Christmas, when “the scale of injustice and inequality is in very plain sight”, as he described how many will be helping at foodbanks or shelters.
“Together we have the power to bring about change in our communities and make a real difference to the lives of others,” Mr Corbyn added.
“Together, let’s do all we can to make this a country that cares for the many and not the few.
“And do everything we can to reach out to neighbours and build that sense of togetherness, not just for Christmas but for all the months and years ahead.”
Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, speaking from her official residence Bute House, urged people to “spread some Christmas cheer” by volunteering or “by being a good neighbour or friend”.
The SNP leader called for Scots to be “especially thankful” for those still working in the public sector over the holidays.
Author: Greg Heffer
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