Official languages: English
Demonisms: British, Britton
Government: Parliamentary constitutional monarchy
-Monarch: Queen Elizabeth II
-Prime Minister: Gordon Brown MP
-Upper House: House of Lords
-Lower House: House of Commons
-Acts of Union 1707: 1 May 1707
-Act of Union 1800: 1 January 1801
-Anglo-Irish Treaty: 12 April 1922
EU accession: 1 January 1973
-Total: 244,820 km2 (79th) 94,526 sq mi
-2007 estimaten: 60,975,000 (22nd)
-2001 census: 58,789,194
-Density: 246/km2 (48th) 637/sq mi
GDP (PPP): 2007 estimaten
-Total: $2.23 trillion (6th)
-Per capita: $36,570 (14th)
-Total: $2.78 trillion (5th)
-Per capita: $45,681 (9th)
Gini (2005): 34
HDI (2006): ▼ 0.942 (high) (21st)
Currency: Pound sterling (GBP)
Time zone: GMT (UTC+0)
-Summer (DST): BST (UTC+1)
Drives on the: left
Internet TLD: .uk
Calling code: 44
On 1 May 1707 the Kingdom of Great Britain was created by the political union of the Kingdom of England (which included Wales) and the Kingdom of Scotland. This event was the result of the Treaty of Union that was agreed on 22 July 1706, and then ratified by both the Parliament of England and Parliament of Scotland each passing an Act of Union in 1707. Almost a century later, the Kingdom of Ireland, already under English control by 1691, joined the Kingdom of Great Britain with the passing of the Act of Union 1800. Although England and Scotland had been separate states prior to 1707, they had been in personal union since the Union of the Crowns in 1603, when James VI King of Scots had inherited the throne of the Kingdoms of England and Ireland and moved his court from Edinburgh to London.
Territories that were at one time part of the British Empire. The British overseas territories (excluding the British Antarctic Territory) are underlined in red.
In its first century, the United Kingdom played an important role in developing Western ideas of the parliamentary system as well as making significant contributions to literature, the arts and science. The UK-led Industrial Revolution transformed the country and fuelled the growing British Empire. During this time, like other great powers, the UK was involved in colonial exploitation, including the Atlantic slave trade, although the passing of the Slave Trade Act in 1807 made it the first country to prohibit trade in slaves.
After the defeat of Napoleon in the Napoleonic Wars, the UK emerged the principal naval power of the 19th century and remained an eminent power into the mid-20th century. The British Empire expanded to its maximum size by 1921, gaining the League of Nations mandate over former German and Ottoman colonies after World War I.
Long simmering tensions in Ireland led to the partition of the island in 1920, followed by independence for the Irish Free State in 1922 with Northern Ireland remaining within the UK. As a result, in 1927, the formal name of the UK was changed to its current name, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
The Battle of Britain. The UK was the only European country fighting against the Axis throughout World War II without being occupied.
During the 1920s, the BBC, the world’s first large-scale international broadcasting network, was created. The UK fought Nazi Germany as one of the major Allied powers of World War II and helped plan the postwar world. World War II left the United Kingdom financially damaged. Marshall Aid and costly loans taken from both Canada and the United States helped the UK on the road to recovery.
The immediate post-war years saw the establishment of the Welfare State, including among the world’s first and most comprehensive public health services, while the demands of a recovering economy attracted immigrants from all over the Commonwealth. Although the new postwar limits of Britain’s political role were confirmed by the Suez Crisis of 1956, the international spread of the English language meant the continuing influence of its literature and culture, while from the 1960s its popular culture also found influence abroad.
Following a period of global economic slowdown and industrial strife in the 1970s, the 1980s saw the inflow of substantial North Sea oil revenues and economic growth. The premiership of Margaret Thatcher marked a significant change of direction from the post-war political and economic consensus; a path that has continued under the New Lab our governments of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown since 1997.
The United Kingdom was one of the 12 founding members of the European Union at its launch in 1992 with the signing of the Maastricht Treaty. Prior to that, it had been a member of the EU’s forerunner, the European Economic Community (EEC), from 1973. The attitude of the present Lab our government towards further integration with this organization is mixed, with the Official Opposition, the Conservative Party, favoring less powers and competencies being transferred to the EU.
The end of the 20th century saw major changes to the governance of the UK with the establishment of devolved national administrations for Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales following pre-legislative referenda.
HM Queen Elizabeth II
The United Kingdom is a constitutional monarchy: Queen Elizabeth II is head of state of the UK as well as of fifteen other Commonwealth countries, putting the UK in a personal union with those other states. The Crown has sovereignty over the Crown Dependencies of the Isle of Man and the Bailiwicks of Jersey and Guernsey, which are not part of the United Kingdom though the UK government manages their foreign affairs and defense and the UK Parliament has the authority to legislate on their behalf.
Since the United Kingdom is one of the three countries in the world today that does not have a codified constitution, the Constitution of the United Kingdom consists mostly of written sources, including statutes, judge made case law, and international treaties. As there is no technical difference between ordinary statutes and “constitutional law,” the UK Parliament can perform “constitutional reform” simply by passing Acts of Parliament and thus has the power to change or abolish almost any written or unwritten element of the constitution. However, no Parliament can pass laws that future Parliaments cannot change.
The UK has a parliamentary government based on the Westminster system that has been emulated around the world — a legacy of the British Empire. The Parliament of the United Kingdom that meets in the Palace of Westminster has two houses: an elected House of Commons and an appointed House of Lords, and any Bill passed requires Royal Assent to become law. It is the ultimate legislative authority in the United Kingdom since the devolved parliament in Scotland and devolved assemblies in Northern Ireland, and Wales are not sovereign bodies and could be abolished by the UK parliament despite being established following public approval as expressed in referenda.
The Houses of Parliament
The position of Prime Minister, the UK’s head of government, belongs to the Member of Parliament who can obtain the confidence of a majority in the House of Commons, usually the current leader of the largest political party in that chamber. The Prime Minister and Cabinet are formally appointed by the Monarch to form Her Majesty’s Government. Though the Prime Minister chooses the Cabinet, and by convention HM the Queen respects the Prime Minister’s choices. The Cabinet is traditionally drawn from members of the Prime Minister’s party in both legislative houses, and mostly from the House of Commons, to which they are responsible. Executive power is exercised by the Prime Minister and Cabinet, all of whom are sworn into Her Majesty’s Most Honorable Privy Council, and become Ministers of the Crown. The Rt Hon Gordon Brown MP, leader of the Lab our Party, has been Prime Minister, First Lord of the Treasury and Minister for the Civil Service since 27 June 2007.
For elections to the House of Commons, the UK is currently divided into 646 constituencies, with 529 in England, 18 in Northern Ireland, 59 in Scotland and 40 in Wales, though this number will rise to 650 at the next General Election. Each constituency elects one Member of Parliament by simple plurality. General Elections are called by the Monarch when the Prime Minister so advises. Though there is no minimum term for a Parliament, the Parliament Act (1911) requires that a new election must be called within five years of the previous general election.
The UK’s three major political parties are the Lab our Party, the Conservative Party, and the Liberal Democrats, who won between them 616 out of the 646 seats available in the House of Commons at the 2005 general election. Most of the remaining seats were won by parties that only contest elections in one part of the UK such as the Scottish National Party (Scotland only), Plaid Cymru (Wales only), and the Democratic Unionist Party, Social Democratic and Lab our Party, Ulster Unionist Party, and Sinn Feint (Northern Ireland only, though Sinn Fein also contests elections in Ireland). In accordance with party policy, no elected Sinn Fein Member of Parliament has ever attended the House of Commons to speak in the House on behalf of their constituents as Members of Parliament are required to take an oath of allegiance to the Monarch.
For elections to the European Parliament, the UK has 78 MEPs, elected in 12 multi-member constituencies. Questions over sovereignty have been brought forward due to the UK’s membership of the European Union.
Scottish Parliament is the national legislature of Scotland.
Parliament Buildings in Stormont, Belfast, seat of the assembly
Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales each has its own government or Executive, led by a First Minister, and a devolved, unicameral legislature. England, the largest country of the United Kingdom, has no devolved executive or legislature and is administered and legislated for directly by the UK government and parliament on all issues. This situation has given rise to the so-called West Lothian question which concerns the fact that MPs from Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales can vote, sometimes decisively, on matters affecting England that are handled by devolved legislatures for their own constituencies.
The Scottish Government and Parliament have wide ranging powers over any matter that has not been specifically ‘reserved’ to the UK parliament, including education, healthcare, Scots law and local government. Following their victory at the 2007 elections, the pro-independence SNP formed a minority government with its leader, Alex Salmond, becoming First Minister of Scotland. The pro-union parties responded to the electoral success of the SNP by creating a Commission to examine the case for devolving additional powers while excluding Scottish independence as an option, though the then leader of the Scottish Lab our Party, Wendy Alexander, indicated that Lab our would support calls for independence to be placed before the people in a referendum in the hope that a vote to reject independence would settle the constitutional debate for a generation.
The Welsh Assembly Government and the National Assembly for Wales have more limited powers than those devolved to Scotland, although following the passing of the Government of Wales Act 2006, the Assembly can now legislate in some areas through Legislative Competency Orders which can be granted on a case by case basis. The current Welsh Assembly Government was formed several weeks after the 2007 elections, following a brief period of minority administration, when Plaid Cymru joined Labour in a coalition government under the continuing leadership of First Minister Rhodri Morgan.
The Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly have powers closer to those already devolved to Scotland. The Northern Ireland Executive is currently led by First Minister Peter Robinson (Democratic Unionist Party) and deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness (Sinn Féin).
The history of local government in the United Kingdom is marked by little change in the arrangements that preceded the Union until the 19th century, after which there has been a constant evolution of role and function. Change did not occur in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales in a uniform manner and the devolution of power over local government to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland means that future changes are unlikely to be uniform either.
The organization of local government in England is complex, with the distribution of functions varying according to the local arrangements. Legislation concerning local government in England is decided by the UK parliament and the government of the United Kingdom, because England does not have a devolved parliament. The upper-tier subdivisions of England are the nine Government office regions or European Union government office regions. One region, Greater London, has had a directly elected assembly and mayor since 2000 following popular support for the proposal in a referendum. It was intended that other regions would also be given their own elected regional assemblies but a rejection by a referendum in 2004 of a proposed assembly in the North East region stopped this idea in its tracks. Below the region level, London consists of 32 London boroughs and the rest of England has either county councils and district councils or unitary authorities. Councillors are elected by First Past The Post in single member wards or by the multi-member plurality system in multi-member wards.
Local government in Northern Ireland has, since 1973, been organized into 26 district councils, each elected by single transferable vote with powers limited to services like collecting waste, controlling dogs, and maintaining parks and cemeteries. However, on 13 March 2008, the Executive agreed on proposals to create 11 new councils to replace the present system and the next local elections will be postponed until 2011 to facilitate this.
Local government in Scotland is divided on a basis of 32 council areas with wide variation in both size and population. The cities of Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Dundee are separate council areas as also is Highland Council which includes a third of Scotland’s area but just over 200,000 people. The power invested in local authorities is administered by elected councilors, of which there are currently 1,222 who are each paid a part-time salary. Elections are conducted by single transferable vote in multi-member wards that elect either three or four councillors. Each council elects a Provost or Convenor to chair meetings of the council and to act as a figurehead for the area. Councillors are subject to a code of conduct enforced by the Standards Commission for Scotland. The representative association of Scotland’s local authorities is the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA).
Local government in Wales consists of 22 unitary authorities, including the cities of Cardiff, Swansea and Newport, which are separate unitary authorities in their own right. Elections are held every four years by First Past The Post with the most recent elections being in May, 2008. The Welsh Local Government Association represents the interests of local authorities in Wales.
The total area of the United Kingdom is approximately 245,000 square kilometers (94,600 sq mi) comprising of the island of Great Britain, the northeastern one-sixth of the island of Ireland (Northern Ireland) and smaller islands. It lies between the North Atlantic Ocean and the North Sea, coming within 35 kilometres (22 mi) of the northwest coast of France, from which it is separated by the English Channel. Great Britain lies between latitudes 49° and 59° N (the Shetland Islands reach to nearly 61° N), and longitudes 8° W to 2° E. The Royal Greenwich Observatory, near London, is the defining point of the Prime Meridian. When measured directly north-south, Great Britain is a little over 1,100 kilometres (700 mi) in length and is a fraction under 500 kilometres (300 mi) at its widest, but the greatest distance between two points is 1,350 kilometres (840 mi) between Land’s End in Cornwall (near Penzance) and John o’ Groats in Caithness (near Thurso). Northern Ireland shares a 360-kilometre (224 mi) land boundary with the Republic of Ireland.
The United Kingdom has a temperate climate, with plentiful rainfall all year round. The temperature varies with the seasons but seldom drops below −10 °C (14.0 °F) or rises above 35 °C (95 °F). The prevailing wind is from the southwest, bearing frequent spells of mild and wet weather from the Atlantic Ocean. Eastern parts are most sheltered from this wind and are therefore the driest. Atlantic currents, warmed by the Gulf Stream, bring mild winters, especially in the west, where winters are wet, especially over high ground. Summers are warmest in the south east of England, being closest to the European mainland, and coolest in the north. Snowfall can occur in winter and early spring, though it rarely settles to great depth away from high ground.
The topography of the UK
England accounts for just over half of the total area of the UK, covering 130,410 square kilometres (50,350 sq mi). Most of the country consists of lowland terrain, with mountainous terrain north-west of the Tees-Exe line including the Cumbrian Mountains of the Lake District, the Pennines and limestone hills of the Peak District, Exmoor and Dartmoor. The main rivers and estuaries are the Thames, Severn and the Humber. England’s highest mountain is Scafell Pike, which is in the Lake District 978 metres (3,209 ft). England has a number of large towns and cities, including six of the top 50 Larger Urban Zones in the European Union.
Scotland accounts for about a third of the total area of the UK, covering 78,772 square kilometers (30,410 sq mi), including nearly eight hundred islands, mainly west and north of the mainland, notably the Hebrides, Orkney Islands and Shetland Islands. The topography of Scotland is distinguished by the Highland Boundary Fault – a geological rock fracture – which traverses the Scottish mainland from Helensburgh to Stonehaven. The fault line separates two distinctively different regions; namely the Highlands to the north and west and the lowlands to the south and east. The more rugged Highland region contains the majority of Scotland’s mountainous terrain, including Ben Nevis, which at 1,343 metres (4,406 ft) is the highest point in the British Isles. Lowland areas, especially the narrow waist of land between the Firth of Clyde and the Firth of Forth known as the Central Belt, are flatter and home to most of the population including Glasgow, Scotland’s largest city, and Edinburgh, the capital and political centre of the country.
Ben Nevis, in Scotland’s Grampian Mountains, is the highest point in the British Isles
Wales accounts for less than a tenth of the total area of the UK, covering 20,758 square kilometers (8,010 sq mi). Wales is mostly mountainous, though south Wales is less mountainous than north and mid Wales. The main population and industrial areas are in south Wales, consisting of the coastal cities of Cardiff (the capital, political and economic centre), Swansea and Newport and the South Wales Valleys to their north. The highest mountains in Wales are in Snowdonia, and include Snowdon (Welsh: Yr Wyddfa), which, at 1,085 m (3,560 ft) is the highest peak in Wales. The 14 (or possibly 15) Welsh mountains over 3,000 feet (914 m) high are known collectively as the Welsh 3000s. Wales has over 1,200 km (750 miles) of coastline. There are several islands off the Welsh mainland, the largest of which is Anglesey (Ynys Môn) in the northwest.
Northern Ireland accounts for just 14,160 square kilometres (5,470 sq mi) and is mostly hilly. It includes Lough Neagh, at 388 square kilometers (150 sq mi), the largest body of water in the UK and Ireland. The highest peak in Northern Ireland is Slieve Donard at 849 metres (2,785 ft) in the Mourne Mountains.
The Treaty of Union that led to the formation of the United Kingdom ensured that there would be a protestant succession as well as a link between church and state that still remains. Christianity is the major religion, followed by Islam, Hinduism, Sikhism and then Judaism in terms of number of adherents. The 2007 Tear fund Survey revealed 53% identified themselves as Christian which was similar to the 2004 British Social Attitudes Survey, and to the 2001 Census in which 71.6% said that Christianity was their religion, (though the latter used “a softer question”.) However, the Tear fund survey showed only one in ten Britons actually attend church weekly. There is also a large and growing atheist and agnostic population with 9.1 million (15% of the UK population) claiming no religion in the 2001 census. There is a disparity between the figures for those identifying themselves with a particular religion and for those proclaiming a belief in a God: research suggests that just 38% of the population have a belief in a God with a further 40% believing in a ‘spirit or life force’.
London is Europe’s largest financial centre and one of the world’s three largest financial centers’ alongside New York and Tokyo.
The UK economy is made up (in descending order of size) of the economies of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Based on market exchange rates, the United Kingdom is today the fifth largest economy in the world and the second largest in Europe after Germany.
The Industrial Revolution started in the United Kingdom with an initial concentration on heavy industries such as shipbuilding, coal mining, steel production, and textiles. The empire created an overseas market for British products, allowing the UK to dominate international trade in the 19th century. However, as other nations industrialized, coupled with economic decline after two world wars, the United Kingdom began to lose its competitive advantage and heavy industry declined, by degrees, throughout the 20th century. Manufacturing remains a significant part of the economy, but accounted for only one-sixth of national output in 2003. The British motor industry is a significant part of this sector, although it has diminished with the collapse of the MG Rover Group and most of the industry is foreign owned. Civil and defence aircraft production is led by the United Kingdom’s largest aerospace firm, BAE Systems, and the continental European firm EADS, the owner of Airbus. Rolls-Royce holds a major share of the global aerospace engines market. The chemical and pharmaceutical industry is strong in the UK, with the world’s second and sixth largest pharmaceutical firms (GlaxoSmithKline and AstraZeneca, respectively) being based in the UK.
The UK service sector, however, has grown substantially, and now makes up about 73% of GDP. The service sector is dominated by financial services, especially in banking and insurance. London is the world’s largest financial centre with the London Stock Exchange, the London International Financial Futures and Options Exchange, and the Lloyd’s of London insurance market all based in the City of London. London is a major centre for international business and commerce and is the leader of the three “command centre’s” for the global economy (along with New York City and Tokyo). it has the largest concentration of foreign bank branches in the world. In the past decade, a rival financial centre in London has grown in the Docklands area, with HSBC and Barclays Bank relocating their head offices there. Many multinational companies that are not primarily UK-based have chosen to site their European or rest-of-world headquarters in London: an example is the US financial services firm Citigroup. The Scottish capital, Edinburgh, has one of the large financial centres of Europe and is the headquarters of the Royal Bank of Scotland Group, one of the world’s largest banks.
North Sea oil and gas supply most of the UK’s energy needs.
Tourism is very important to the British economy. With over 27 million tourists arriving in 2004, the United Kingdom is ranked as the sixth major tourist destination in the world. London, by a considerable margin, is the most visited city in the world with 15.6 million visitors in 2006, ahead of 2nd placed Bangkok (10.4 million visitors) and 3rd placed Paris (9.7 million).
The creative industries accounted for 7% GVA in 2005 and grew at an average of 6% per annum between 1997 and 2005.
The United Kingdom’s agriculture sector accounts for only 0.9% of the country’s GDP.
The UK has a small coal reserve along with significant, yet continuously declining natural gas and oil reserves. Over 400 million tones of proven coal reserves have been identified in the UK. In 2004, total UK coal consumption (including imports) was 61 million tones, allowing the UK to be self sufficient in coal for just over 6.5 years, although at present extraction rates it would take 20 years to mine. An alternative to coal-fired electricity generation is underground coal gasification (UCG). UGC involves injecting steam and oxygen down a borehole, which extracts gas from the coal and draws the mixture to the surface – a potentially very low carbon method of exploiting coal. Identified onshore areas that have the potential for UGC amount to between 7 billion tones and 16 billion tones. Based on current UK coal consumption, these volumes represent reserves that could last the UK between 200 and 400 years.
The Bank of England; the central bank of the United Kingdom.
Government involvement throughout the economy is exercised by the Chancellor of the Exchequer (currently Alistair Darling) who heads HM Treasury, but the Prime Minister (currently The Rt Hon Gordon Brown MP), is First Lord of the Treasury; the Chancellor of the Exchequer is the Second Lord of the Treasury. In recent years, the UK economy has been managed in accordance with principles of market liberalization and low taxation and regulation. Since 1997, the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee, headed by the Governor of the Bank of England, has been responsible for setting interest rates at the level necessary to achieve the overall inflation target for the economy that is set by the Chancellor each year. The Scottish Government, subject to the approval of the Scottish Parliament, has the power to vary the basic rate of income tax payable in Scotland by plus or minus 3 pence in the pound, though this power has not yet been exercised.
As of 2007, the UK’s government debt was 44% of GDP.
The currency of the UK is the pound sterling, represented by the symbol £. The Bank of England is the central bank, responsible for issuing currency. Banks in Scotland and Northern Ireland retain the right to issue their own notes, subject to retaining enough Bank of England notes in reserve to cover the issue. The UK chose not to join the euro at the currency’s launch, and the British Prime Minister, The Rt Hon Gordon Brown MP, has ruled out membership for the foreseeable future, saying that the decision not to join had been right for Britain and for Europe. The government of former Prime Minister Tony Blair had pledged to hold a public referendum for deciding membership should “five economic tests” is met. In 2005, more than half (55%) of the UK were against adopting the currency, while 30% were in favour.United Kingdom,