SIR Edward Heath, the Prime Minister who took Britain into Europe, has died, aged 89.
Baroness Thatcher, the long-term adversary who ousted him as Tory leader, hailed him as a "political giant" and "the first modern Conservative leader" last night.
The Queen, Prime Minister Tony Blair and Tory leader Michael Howard also paid tribute to Sir Edward, who occupied 10 Downing Street from 1970 to 1974.
The veteran politician suffered a pulmonary embolism while holidaying in Australia two years ago and never seemed to recover fully. He is understood to have died of old age.
He was well enough to celebrate his birthday with a party only last week but had recently become considerably weaker, a spokesman said.
Sir Edward, who spent more than half a century in the Commons, had been resting quietly at the home which he loved in Salisbury, Wiltshire, when he died at 7.30pm yesterday.
Although in Downing Street for less than four years, his legacy is assured as the prime minister who persuaded Britain to join the European Economic Community.
He will be equally remembered for his long feud with Baroness Thatcher, who defeated him in a Tory leadership contest.
"As Prime Minister, he was confronted by the enormous problems of post-war Britain," said Lady Thatcher.
"If those problems eventually defeated him, he had shown in the 1970 manifesto how they, in turn, would eventually be defeated.
"For that, and much else besides, we are all in his debt," Lady Thatcher said.
The son of a housemaid and a carpenter, Sir Edward became the Tories' first working-class prime minister in 1970.
His time in No 10 was also marked by a confrontational approach to pay and the unions which resulted in numerous strikes.