London Mayor Sadiq Khan is facing a backlash after being accused of ‘politicising’ the capital’s new year fireworks display with a pro-EU message.
The £2.3million taxpayer-funded extravaganza saw the London Eye transformed into an EU flag in an apparent tribute to Brussels.
And Remainer Mr Khan announced ‘London is open’ two minutes into the new year – with the phrase repeated in Spanish, Polish, French, Romanian, German and Italian.
An 11-minute soundtrack to the pyrotechnics also included songs by European artists with titles such as We Are Your Friends, Stay and Don’t Leave Me Alone.
Mr Khan said politicians in Westminster had given ‘the impression we’re insular, inward looking, not welcoming to Europeans’ and the display would show the world ‘while they’re watching us, that we’re going to carry on being open-minded, outward looking, pluralistic’ after Brexit.
Some people were supportive, with one tweeting: ‘If he wants to tell the world that London is open for business good for him.’
However, Conservative MP Andrew Bridgen said : ‘It’s low, it’s very low to politicise what is an international public event. It’s a betrayal of democracy and it’s what we have come to expect from a very poor mayor of London.’
Former MEP Roger Helmer tweeted: ‘While the UK is locked in critical negotiations with Brussels, Sadiq Khan chooses to display the other side’s flag on the London Eye. Would he have shown an Argentinian flag during the Falklands War?’
London Assembly member David Kurten added: ‘He knows he will lose a lot of votes in the next London Mayoral elections as EU nationals will no longer have the vote after Brexit Day.’
Mr Khan has previously expressed his backing for a second referendum and has voiced his concerns over the effects of a no-deal Brexit on the capital.
Tickets to the sold-out display cost £10 each, raising about £950,000. It is also estimated that it will bring a £6.5million economic boost to London.
Mr Khan defended his decision to light up the London Eye to resemble the EU flag last night despite coming under heavy criticism.
He tweeted: ‘Our spectacular #LondonNYE fireworks showed that whatever the outcome of Brexit – #LondonIsOpen – to business, talent, ideas & creativity – and why London really is the greatest city in the world.’
He later told Sky News: ‘As we bring 2019 it’s an opportunity for us to celebrate the contribution made to our city by Europeans.
‘Here in London we have more than a million Londoners who are EU citizens and we should reflect on that.’
Mr Khan was accused of ‘absolute disrespect’ and of ‘shoving his political views in the faces’ of the 17.4million voters who chose to leave in the 2016 Referendum as people vented their fury on social media.
Twitter user Kevin William Hayes branded the Labour politician a ‘d***’ and said the mayor was being ‘crass’ as Gary Fitzsimmons said it was ‘highly inappropriate for Sadiq Khan to use tax payers’ money to turn the Lonodn Eye into a giant EU flag’.
But some backed the move, with some pointing that the capital itself voted overwhelmingly to remain in the bloc. Victoria Browne congratulated Mr Khan for ‘celebrating the UK but also acknowledging our close ties with the EU’ ahead of Britain’s exit.
The words ‘London is open’ rang in the new year as the capital welcomed 2019 with a dazzling riverside fireworks display.
The phrase was spoken in seven languages around two minutes past midnight as the city skyline filled with lights in the largest annual display in Europe.
A soundtrack featuring Europe’s finest musical artists celebrated the diversity of the capital, after Big Ben, silent for much of 2018 due to renovations, chimed once more.
Khan said the sold-out display would show Europe that the capital will remain ‘open-minded’ and ‘outward looking’ post-Brexit.
He said Westminster politicians had given the world the impression that Britain is ‘insular, inward looking’, as Britain begins the new year countdown to Brexit.
Mr Khan said he hoped this year’s event would ‘send a message of support’ to the more than one million European citizens for whom London is home.
He has previously expressed his backing for a People’s Vote and has voiced his concerns over the effects of a no-deal Brexit on the capital.
‘One of the things which upset many, many Londoners and many people across our country and in Europe is the tone and language used by politicians in Westminster, giving the impression we’re insular, inward looking, not welcoming to Europeans,’ he said. ‘I think the Government’s made a mess of negotiations with the European Union.
‘Bearing in mind Parliament can’t resolve the issue of how we will leave the European Union, we should allow the public to take back control with the option of staying in European Union, or accepting the deal made by the government.’
He vowed that London would remain the same after March 29 2019, and said the fireworks display was about ‘showing the world, while they’re watching us, that we’re going to carry on being open-minded, outward looking, pluralistic’.
Some 100,000 ticket-holders lined the banks of the Thames to watch 70,000 projectiles made up of eight tonnes of fireworks fire into the sky from three barges and the London Eye.
Mr Khan continued: ‘We, in my opinion, are one of the greatest cities in the world, one of the reason we are one of the greatest cities in the world is because of the contribution made by Europeans. I think diversity is a strength and I think what tonight is about is celebrating that diversity.
‘I hope that members of Parliament, members of the Government will see the fireworks tonight, will listen to the soundtrack and will reflect on what sort of country they want to live in post-March.’
Around 75,000 party-goers gathered in the centre of Edinburgh, in the shadow of the city’s castle, where the devolved government also to celebrate its ties with Europe.
Bands, DJs, street performers, dancers and acrobats from Scotland and mainland Europe all performed at the open air event.
Revellers enjoyed music across three stages, with Scottish favourite Gerry Cinnamon appearing on the Waverley stage, Judge Jules and the Mac Twins leading the DJ stage in Castle Street, while Elephant Sessions took to the stage in South St David Street.
Meanwhile, Franz Ferdinand, supported by Metronomy and Free Love, headlined the Concert in the Gardens at the foot of Castle Rock, while some of the country’s top ceilidh bands played at Ceilidh under the Castle.
First in the queue to see Franz Ferdinand were Jessica Cassino, 37, from Brooklyn, New York, and 28-year-old Alina Entelis, from Israel.
Ms Cassino said: ‘I love Franz Ferdinand. Edinburgh’s beautiful, I love it. I’ll be back next year.’
Ms Entelis, who is currently studying in London, said: ‘When I started looking at the Franz Ferdinand concert, I saw a bunch of other events going on. I was participating in the Torchlight Procession on Sunday and I loved it.
‘I feel like Edinburgh is the best place to be on New Year’s Eve right now. Everybody is jealous of me back home. I’ve been here once before and I loved it and I was really looking forward to coming back.
‘I think it’s magical and I’ve recommended it to a bunch of my friends.’ The crowd featured first time vistors, return visitors and those with family links to Scotland.
It was the first time in Edinburgh for couple Myriam Malquin, 25, and David Maheo, 26, from Brittany in France.
Mr Maheo told Press Association Scotland: ‘We wanted to go to a European capital for New Year. We saw that there was a big party in Edinburgh, so we came. It’s great. It’s very interesting to see the castle, all the buildings.’
Georgina McGuire, 26, from Woking in Surrey, praised the friendliness of the local residents. ‘I love Edinburgh – there are good vibes and lots of sparkle. Everyone is so friendly,’ she said.
Michelle Rossiter, 30, a speech therapist from Sydney, currently working in London, said: ‘My heritage is from Scotland, my grandmother, that’s why I’m here.
‘We’ve already met some Scottish people, some Edinburgh locals, and they’re all really friendly.
‘Sydney has some pretty good fireworks, and I am looking forward to fireworks over the castle, but the concert, definitely, is the main thing I’m excited about.’
The weather was windy but stayed dry as for the festivities. Elsewhere in Scotland, Inverness hosted Scotland’s biggest free Hogmanay event, while celebrations also took place in centres such as Aberdeen and Stirling.
The Scottish capital’s three-day festival of events to mark the start of 2019 opened on Sunday with the traditional torchlight procession, culminating in Holyrood Park where the outline of Scotland was lit up.
The festivities are set to continue on New Year’s Day when hardy people plunge into the chilly waters of the Firth of Forth in the Loony Dook at South Queensferry.
Also on January 1, buildings across the Scottish capital will be illuminated by ‘love letters to Europe’ from six writers, Billy Letford, Chitra Ramaswamy, Kapka Kassabova, Louise Welsh, Stef Smith and William Dalrymple.
Co-commissioned with the Edinburgh International Book Festival, it runs until January 25.
A report out earlier this year found that the economic impact of Edinburgh’s Hogmanay celebrations on the city was more than £39 million.
A study for organisers Underbelly noted that 165,994 people from 80 countries attended last year’s programme of events to welcome in the new year.
Scotland’s Europe Minister, Ben Macpherson, said: ‘Edinburgh is one of the world’s best known cities for bringing in the New Year. Few places celebrate quite like Scotland – the home of the world-renowned Hogmanay celebrations.
‘Scotland’s ties with our European and international friends and neighbours stretch back many centuries, and this year’s celebrations reflect those ties of friendship, business, culture and commerce – strong ties that the Scottish Government and so many others are determined to see endure, whatever the New Year holds in terms of the Brexit process.’