The leaders of Britain’s three main political parties will lead tributes by MPs to Nelson Mandela in the House of Commons on Monday, as normal parliamentary business is suspended.
David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband will speak during a special session intended to celebrate the statesman’s life and work. Mr Cameron and senior British politicians are also expected to fly to South Africa early next week to attend a memorial service for the former president. Details were being finalised on Friday night with the South African government and Mandela family.
The South African flag was flown alongside the Union Jack at half-mast on Friday in honour of Mr Mandela. The Prime Minister said: “A great light has gone out in the world. Nelson Mandela was a towering figure in our time, a legend in life and now in death, a true global hero.”
People gathered around his statue in Parliament Square and at the South African embassy, many in tears, lighting candles and leaving flowers. Steven McCourt, 41, who left a Springbok jersey at the statue, grew up in Pretoria. He said: “It’s tough but hopefully this will unify people.”
The changes to the Commons timetable were agreed in talks between Downing Street and John Bercow, the Commons Speaker. It is thought to be the first time a sitting of Parliament has been given over to honouring the memory of a foreign politician. Mr Mandela addressed both Houses of Parliament in Westminster Hall in July 1996 and a brass plaque was installed on its steps to mark the historic occasion.
Mr Bercow on Friday praised his “extraordinary leadership, vision and dedication”, adding a book of condolence would be placed in the Commons library for MPs, peers and parliamentary staff to add their tributes.
The former Conservative chairman, Lord Tebbit, on Friday defended the Thatcher government’s attitude to Mr Mandela during the 1980s and its refusal to support sanctions against South Africa during apartheid rule. “You have to act within the constraints of the time and I get very irritated by people who judge the past by the present. It is not very sensible,” he told the BBC.