Prime Minister David Cameron will this year deliver his most religious Christmas message to date, calling Britain a “Christian country” whose religious values have made it a “home to people of all faiths and none”.
Mr Cameron will focus on the issues of peace and security at a time when millions are fleeing war around the world, stressing the importance of Britain’s Christian values in shaping how the country responds.
"That is what we mark as we celebrate the birth of God's only son, Jesus Christ - the Prince of Peace," he said.
"As a Christian country, we must remember what his birth represents: peace, mercy, goodwill and, above all, hope.
"I believe that we should also reflect on the fact that it is because of these important religious roots and Christian values that Britain has been such a successful home to people of all faiths and none."
The message was the second year in a row that Mr Cameron refered to Britain as a Christian country, despite his having been accused of stoking "alienation and division" last Christmas.
It comes after an official inquiry into belief in Britain found a “general decline” in Christian affiliation, with only two in five people now identifying as Christian.
The Commission on Religion and Belief in British Public Life report, released in early December, said modern Britain had a more “pluralist character”, while the number of people who don’t follow any religion has risen to almost half the population in 2014.
His remarks were criticised by the National Secular Society, saying it was "disappointing to see the Prime Minister again pushing the divisive rhetoric of Britain being a 'Christian country' ".
Stephen Evans, the group’s campaigns manager, said: “We look to political leaders for leadership, not theology, and this kind of language reveals him to be less than statesmanlike."
He added: “David Cameron needs to appreciate that he isn't a leader of Christians, he's the prime minister of a diverse, multi-faith, and increasingly non-religious nation.”
Mr Cameron will use his message to draw attention to the millions of refugees fleeing war in Syria and elsewhere and the persecution of Christians around the world.
"Millions of families are spending this winter in refugee camps or makeshift shelters across Syria and the Middle East, driven from their homes by Daesh and [Syrian president] Assad,” he said.
"Christians from Africa to Asia will go to church on Christmas morning full of joy, but many in fear of persecution.
“Throughout the United Kingdom, some will spend the festive period ill, homeless or alone," he said.
The Government has pledged to accept 20,000 of the 4 million refugees from Syria over a five year period, with the first families arriving in recent weeks.
Mr Cameron also paid tribute to people who were spending Christmas "helping the vulnerable at home and protecting our freedoms abroad", and to the armed forces stationed abroad.
"Right now, our brave armed forces are doing their duty, around the world: in the skies of Iraq and Syria, targeting the terrorists that threaten those countries and our security at home, on the seas of the Mediterranean, saving those who attempt the perilous crossing to Europe, and on the ground, helping to bring stability to countries from Afghanistan to South Sudan," he said.
"It is because they face danger that we have peace."
Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn will not issue a Christmas message, the party confirmed, but would instead make some remarks ahead of New Year’s Day.Reuse content