THERESA May has used her Christmas message to urge the country to come together after the divisions caused by the EU referendum and the vote for Brexit.

With the Conservative Party split by the campaign and its aftermath, the Prime Minister insisted there was now an “historic opportunity” to recast the nation’s place in the world.

Despite the political turbulence of 2016, she said the UK had “much to celebrate”, citing the Queen’s 90th birthday and the success of Olympic and Paralympic athletes in the Rio games.

She said: “Many of us will have more personal memories too, of happy times with family and friends. These are precious moments when people from many backgrounds, with different beliefs, come together to celebrate with families and communities.

“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.”

She also thanked the armed forces, security agencies and emergency services who would be separated from friends and families over the festive period by their duties.

Nicola Sturgeon also included a coded Brexit reference in her Christmas message by thanking those who had welcomed refugees to Scotland as part of its tradition as a “caring country”.

In a video recorded with pupils from Alness primary in the Highlands, the First Minister said: “We should also remember those working in our emergency services, those keeping our transport network running and the many more who give up time with their loved ones at Christmas in the service of others.

“Scotland has a proud reputation as a caring country and I want to thank everyone in the last year who has extended a warm welcome to those seeking refuge and comfort here.”

Also suffering from splits in her party, Kezia Dugdale called for an end to divisions in society.

The Scottish Labour leader praised emergency workers and asked people to remember the homeless and bereaved over the festive season, as well as those suffering in Syria.

She said: "Christmas is a chance to reflect on where we are as a nation. The constitution remains the defining issue in our politics and the divisions of recent years still remain.

"When our country is facing so many major challenges, now more than ever we need to unite and work together. My hope is that by next Christmas we will be more united as a nation, and can leave the arguments of the past behind us.”

Meanwhile, one of the architects of Brexit tried to cheep up those left "downcast" by 2016.

Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said that despite war in Syria and terror attacks in Europe, mankind was making progress in health, education and longevity, and "global Britain" was leading the effort to continue the improvements.

Standing in front of a Christmas tree for his video message, Mr Johnson said: "I know that lots of people will be looking back at some of the gloomier bits about last year.

"But I want you to know that British diplomats, British armed forces, British security services, British intelligence services are working the whole time to keep this country safe and to tackle these problems at source."

Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson paid tribute to those working over the holidays, such as emergency service workers and NHS staff, “but also the assistant at the 24-hour petrol station, the pot washer in the hotel kitchen, and the delivery worker on night shift”.

She said: “Often the work they do goes unnoticed or is taken for granted. Perhaps it’s only at Christmas and New Year the rest of us really see it. It’s time for a very overdue thank you.”

In a video filmed at a child refugee centre in Paris, UK LibDem leader Tim Farron asked people to imagine how they would feel if the UK was war zone and they were forced to send their children to safety in another country.

He said: “Let us hope in 2017 we can be true to our British values and proud of our country.”

Scottish LibDem leader Willie Rennie said there was still hope at the end of a turbulent year.

He said: “There is little doubt we are in a more uncertain and dark place in global affairs. The election of President Trump and the decision to sever links with our friends in Europe have taken our society in the wrong direction.

“With attacks in Turkey, the conflict in Yemen, and the war in Syria with its awful reports from Aleppo, it is imperative we do not turn our backs no matter how difficult the challenge.

“Yet there is hope in the response to these conflicts and to the rise of divisive politics. The positive alternative of government and charitable international aid combined with alternative voices that promote tolerance, optimism, openness and unity means that there is light amongst this darkness. There is hope at Christmas.”