Former Prime Minister Baroness Thatcher has died “peacefully” at the age of 87 after suffering a stroke while staying at the Ritz hotel in central London.
David Cameron called her a “great Briton” and the Queen spoke of her sadness at the death.
Lady Thatcher was Conservative prime minister from 1979 to 1990. She was the first woman to hold the role.
She will not have a state funeral but will be accorded the same status as Princess Diana and the Queen Mother.
The ceremony, with full military honours, will take place at London’s St Paul’s Cathedral.
The union jack above Number 10 Downing Street has been lowered to half-mast while Parliament will be recalled from its Easter recess on Wednesday to enable MPs to pay tributes to the former prime minister.
After cancelling planned talks in Paris with French President Francois Hollande and returning to the UK, Mr Cameron made a statement outside No 10 in which he described Lady Thatcher as “the patriot prime minister” and said she had “taken a country that was on its knees and made it stand tall again”.
“Margaret Thatcher loved this country and served it with all she had. For that she has her well-earned place in history – and the enduring respect and gratitude of the British people,” he said.
In an era in which politicians are all too often greeted with indifference, it is easy to forget that Britain was once led by a woman who inspired passion – both love and loathing.”
Lady Thatcher, who retired from public speaking in 2002, had suffered poor health for several years. She had been staying at the Ritz hotel since being discharged from hospital at the end of last year.
BBC political editor Nick Robinson said Lady Thatcher – whose husband Denis died in 2003 – had been a controversial politician who inspired “passion” among her critics and supporters.
Her government privatised several state-owned industries and was involved in a year-long stand-off with unions during the Miners’ Strike of 1984-5. She was also in power when the UK fought a war following Argentina’s invasion of the Falkland Islands in 1982.
Lady Thatcher survived an assassination attempt in 1984, when the IRA bombed the Brighton Grand Hotel, where she was staying for the Conservative Party’s annual conference.
During her later years in office she became increasingly associated with Euroscepticism. She is also seen as one of the key movers behind the fall of communism in eastern Europe.
She stood down in 1990 after she failed to beat Michael Heseltine by enough votes to prevent his leadership challenge going into a second round.
13 October 1925 – Born Margaret Hilda Roberts in Grantham, Lincolnshire
1951 – Married businessman Denis Thatcher
1959 – Becomes MP for Finchley
1970 – Made minister for education
1975 – Elected Conservative leader
1979 – Becomes UK’s first female prime minister
1982 – Falklands War
1983 – Elected prime minister for second time
1984 – Survives Grand Hotel bombing
1984-5 – Takes on unions in Miners’ Strike
1987 – Wins third term in Downing Street
1990 – Resigns as prime minister
1992 – Stands down as MP and accepts peerage
2002 – Retires from public speaking
8 April 2013 – Dies after suffering a stroke
World leaders and senior UK figures have been paying tribute to Lady Thatcher.
US President Barack Obama said the world had “lost one of the great champions of freedom and liberty” and that “America has lost a true friend”.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she would “never forget her part in surmounting the division of Europe and at the end of the Cold War”.
Ahead of his return to the UK, Mr Cameron told the BBC: “Margaret Thatcher succeeded against all the odds. The real thing is she didn’t just lead our country; she saved our country.
“I believe she will go down as the greatest British peacetime prime minister.”
A Buckingham Palace spokesman said: “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.”
Lady Thatcher was born Margaret Roberts, the daughter of a shopkeeper and Conservative councillor in Grantham, Lincolnshire, in 1925.
She studied chemistry at Oxford University and worked for a plastics company before marrying businessman Denis Thatcher in 1951.
She gave birth to twins Mark and Carol in 1953, the year she also qualified as a barrister, and served as MP for Finchley, north London, from 1959 to 1992.
Having been education secretary, she successfully challenged former prime minister Edward Heath for her party’s leadership in 1975 and won general elections in 1979, 1983 and 1987.
BBC © 2013