Britain’s first and only female prime minister Baroness Thatcher has died at the age of 87 after suffering a stroke.
Lady Thatcher’s children Mark and Carol said their mother, who suffered bouts of ill health in recent years, died peacefully on Monday morning.
Downing Street, which joined Buckingham Palace in flying its flags at half mast, said the politician would be given a full ceremonial funeral with honours at St Paul’s Cathedral.
Sky sources understand she died at the Ritz in central London where she had been staying since January following a minor operation.
It is believed her Belgravia home was not properly equipped for her recovery and she was invited to stay at the hotel by its owners, David and Frederick Barclay.
Prime Minister David Cameron led tributes from around the world, calling the former Tory leader “a great prime minister, a great leader, a great Briton”.
He said: “As our first woman prime minister, Margaret Thatcher succeeded against all the odds, and the real thing about Margaret Thatcher is that she didn’t just lead our country, she saved our country, and I believe she’ll go down as the greatest British peacetime prime minister.
“Her legacy will be the fact she served her country so well, she saved our country and that she showed immense courage in doing so and people will be learning about what she did and her achievements in decades, probably centuries to come.”
Mr Cameron was in Spain at the start of a European tour to push for a more flexible EU when the news broke but immediately cut short his trip.
It is understood that Lady Thatcher was consulted about details of the funeral arrangements and made clear that she did not want to lie in state.
The streets between Westminster and St Paul’s will be cleared for the procession, the date of which is yet to be decided. The route will be lined with members of Armed Forces.
US President Barack Obama said that America would “never forget her standing shoulder to shoulder with President Reagan” and that she had “with moral conviction” helped to shape history.
He said: “With the passing of Baroness Margaret Thatcher, the world has lost one of the great champions of freedom and liberty, and America has lost a true friend.
“As a grocer’s daughter who rose to become Britain’s first female prime minister, she stands as an example to our daughters that there is no glass ceiling that can’t be shattered. As prime minister, she helped restore the confidence and pride that has always been the hallmark of Britain at its best.”
Labour leader Ed Miliband, who was launching his local election campaign on Monday, cancelled the party’s operations as a mark of respect.
He said: “She will be remembered as a unique figure. She reshaped the politics of a whole generation.
“The Labour Party disagreed with much of what she did and she will always remain a controversial figure. But we can disagree and also greatly respect her political achievements and her personal strength.”
Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg said: “Margaret Thatcher was one of the defining figures in modern British politics.
“Whatever side of the political debate you stand on, no-one can deny that as prime minister she left a unique and lasting imprint on the country she served.”
Buckingham Palace added: “The Queen was sad to hear the news of the death of Baroness Thatcher. Her Majesty will be sending a private message of sympathy to the family.”
Former Labour prime minister Tony Blair called the ex-PM a “towering political figure” who exercised a huge influence over Britain and the world.
“Very few leaders get to change not only the political landscape of their country but of the world. Margaret was such a leader. Her global impact was vast,” he said.
He added: “As a person she was kind and generous spirited and was always immensely supportive to me as Prime Minister although we came from opposite sides of politics.
“Even if you disagreed with her as I did on certain issues and occasionally strongly, you could not disrespect her character or her contribution to Britain’s national life. She will be sadly missed.”
Former Conservative prime minister Sir John Major described his predecessor as a “true force of nature” and a “political phenomenon”.
He said: “In government, the UK was turned around under – and in large measure because of – her leadership.
“Her reforms of the economy, trades union law, and her recovery of the Falkland Islands elevated her above normal politics, and may not have been achieved under any other leader.”
Lady Thatcher, who made history by becoming Britain’s first female prime minister in 1979, had become increasingly frail over the last decade.
She suffered several small strokes in 2002 and was advised not to accept further public speaking engagements.
Her apparent fragility when she did appear in public, especially after the death of husband Denis in 2003, led to frequent bouts of speculation about her health.
But MPs and friends who saw her regularly said she remained alert and interested in politics and she was not known to have deteriorated notably recently.
The former leader was admitted to hospital shortly before Christmas where she underwent an operation to remove a growth from her bladder but was allowed to return home before the New Year.
As prime minister from 1979 to 1990, she has been credited with transforming a nation in one decade and putting Britain back among the leading industrial nations of the world.
Loved and loathed in equal measure, she crushed the unions and privatised vast swathes of British industry as she led the Tories to three election victories.
She was nicknamed the Iron Lady by a Russian journalist in 1976 for her opposition to Soviet communism.
The moniker stuck and privately she was thought to enjoy it. It also became the title of the 2011 biopic for which Meryl Streep won an Oscar.
“To have given women and girls around the world reason to supplant fantasies of being princesses with a different dream: the real-life option of leading their nation; this was groundbreaking and admirable,” Streep said.
Lady Thatcher was also memorably described by the then French president Francois Mitterrand with the back-handed compliment that she had the “eyes of Caligula and the mouth of Marilyn Monroe”.
But perhaps the defining moment of her career will be the decision to send a taskforce to the Falklands on April 2, 1982 after Argentina invaded.
Despite her toughness, few will forget the pictures of Lady Thatcher leaving Downing Street for the last time with her husband, Sir Denis – tears in her eyes.
A woman who believed in hard work, she was the daughter of grocer Alfred Roberts and gained a degree in Chemistry at Oxford University, where she became president of the university’s Conservative Association.
Her first job was as a research chemist but in February 1951 she was adopted as Conservative candidate for Dartford and at a dinner that day she met the wealthy and divorced businessman, Denis Thatcher. They married later that year.
He supported her during her unsuccessful campaigns for the seat and during her studies to become a barrister. She qualified in 1953, the same year she gave birth to twins Mark and Carol.