Flag of the United Kingdom

Flag of the United Kingdom. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland[note 1] (commonly known as the United Kingdom, the UK or Britain) is a sovereign state located off the north-western coast of continental Europe. The country includes the island of Great Britain, the north-eastern part of the island of Ireland and many smaller islands. Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK that shares a land border with another sovereign state—the Republic of Ireland. Apart from this land border the UK is surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean, the North Sea, the English Channel and the Irish Sea.

The United Kingdom is a unitary state governed under a constitutional monarchy and a parliamentary system, with its seat of government in the capital city of London. It is a country in its own right[1][2] and consists of four countries: England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.[3] There are three devolved national administrations, each with varying powers,[4][5] situated in Belfast, Cardiff and Edinburgh; the capitals of Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland respectively. Associated with the UK, but not constitutionally part of it, are three Crown Dependencies[6] and fourteen overseas territories.[7] These are remnants of the British Empire which, at its height in 1922, encompassed almost a quarter of the world's land surface and was the largest empire in history. British influence can still be observed in the language, culture and legal systems of many of its former territories.

The UK is a developed country and has the world's sixth-largest economy by nominal GDP and seventh-largest economy by purchasing power parity. It was the world's first industrialised country[8] and the world's foremost power during the 19th and early 20th centuries.[9] The UK remains a great power with leading economic, cultural, military, scientific and political influence.[10] It is a recognised nuclear weapons state and its military expenditure ranks third or fourth in the world.[11] It is a member state of the European Union, a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, and a member of the Commonwealth of Nations, the G8, the G20, the OECD, the Council of Europe, the World Trade Organization and NATO.

Etymology and terminologyEdit

The name "United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland" was introduced in 1927 by the Royal and Parliamentary Titles Act. The Acts of Union, uniting the Kingdom of Great Britain and the Kingdom of Ireland in 1801, had given the new state the name of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. The 1927 legislation changed the name to reflect the granting of independence to the Irish Free State in 1922, leaving only Northern Ireland within the UK.[12] Great Britain before 1801 is occasionally referred to as the "United Kingdom of Great Britain".[13] However, Section 1 of both of the 1707 Acts of Union declare that England and Scotland are "United into One Kingdom by the Name of Great Britain".[14][15][note 2]

Although the United Kingdom, as a sovereign state, is a country, England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are also referred to as countries, irrespective of their constitutional arrangements.[16][17] The British Prime Minister's website has used the phrase "countries within a country" to describe the United Kingdom.[2] With regard to Northern Ireland, the descriptive name used "can be controversial, with the choice often revealing one's political preferences."[18] Other terms used for Northern Ireland include "region" and "province".[19][20]

The United Kingdom is often referred to by the short-form name of Britain, a case of pars pro toto. Great Britain refers only to England, Scotland and Wales, and, particularly in the UK, is not favoured as an alternative name for the United Kingdom.[21][22] However, some foreign usage, particularly in the United States, uses Great Britain as a loose synonym for the United Kingdom.[23][24] In addition, in the UK and elsewhere, Britain is also sometimes used as an abbreviation for Great Britain, meaning only England, Scotland and Wales.[17]

The adjective British is commonly used to refer to matters relating to the United Kingdom. Although the term has no definite legal connotation, it is used in legislation to refer to United Kingdom citizenship.[25] However, British people use a number of different terms to describe their national identity. Some may identify themselves as British only, or British and English, Scottish, Welsh, or Northern Irish. Others may identify themselves as only English, Scottish, Welsh or Northern Irish and not British. In Northern Ireland, some describe themselves as only Irish.[26][27][28]


Prior to 1707Edit

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Main article: History of England

Settlement by anatomically modern humans of what was to become the United Kingdom occurred in waves beginning by about 30,000 years ago.[29] By the end of the region's prehistoric period, the population is thought to have belonged, in the main, to a culture termed Insular Celtic, comprising Brythonic Britain and Gaelic Ireland.[30] The Roman conquest, beginning in 43 AD, and the 400-year occupation of southern Britain was followed by an invasion by Germanic Anglo-Saxon settlers, reducing the Brythonic area mainly to what was to become Wales.[31] The region settled by the Anglo-Saxons became unified as the Kingdom of England in the 10th century.[32] Meanwhile, Gaelic-speakers in north west Britain (with connections to the north-east of Ireland and traditionally supposed to have migrated from there in the 5th century)[33][34] united with the Picts to create the Kingdom of Scotland in the 9th century.[35]

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In 1066, the Normans invaded England and after its conquest, seized large parts of Wales, conquered much of Ireland and settled in Scotland bringing to each country feudalism on the Northern French model and Norman-French culture.[36] The Norman elites greatly influenced, but eventually assimilated with, each of the local cultures.[37] Subsequent medieval English kings completed the conquest of Wales and made an ultimately unsuccessful attempt to annex Scotland. Thereafter, Scotland maintained its independence, albeit in near-constant conflict with England. The English monarchs, through inheritance of substantial territories in France and claims to the French crown, were also heavily involved in conflicts in France, most notably the Hundred Years War.[38]

The early modern period saw religious conflict resulting from the Reformation and the introduction of Protestant state churches in each country.[39] Wales was fully incorporated into the Kingdom of England,[40] and Ireland was constituted as a kingdom in personal union with the English crown.[41] In what was to become Northern Ireland, the lands of the independent Catholic Gaelic nobility were confiscated and land given to Protestant settlers from England and Scotland.[42] In 1603, the kingdoms of England, Scotland and Ireland were united in a personal union when James VI, King of Scots, inherited the crowns of England and Ireland and moved his court from Edinburgh to London; each country nevertheless remained a separate political entity and retained its separate political institutions.[43][44] In the mid-17th century, all three kingdoms were involved in a series of connected wars (including the English Civil War) which led to the temporary overthrow of the monarchy and the establishment of the short-lived unitary republic of the Commonwealth of England, Scotland and Ireland.[45][46] Although the monarchy was restored, it ensured (with the so-called Glorious Revolution of 1688) that, unlike much of the rest of Europe, royal absolutism would not prevail. The British constitution would develop on the basis of constitutional monarchy and the parliamentary system.[47] During this period, particularly in England, the development of naval power (and the interest in voyages of discovery) led to the acquisition and settlement of overseas colonies, particularly in North America.[48][49]

From formation of the Kingdom of Great BritainEdit

Main article: History of the United Kingdom
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In 1707, a new kingdom of Great Britain was created by the political union of the kingdoms of England and Scotland in accordance with the Treaty of Union that had been negotiated the previous year and ratified by the English and Scottish Parliaments passing Acts of Union.[50][51][52]

In the 18th century, the country played an important role in developing Western ideas of the parliamentary system as well as making significant contributions to literature, the arts, and science.[9] The British-led Industrial Revolution transformed the country and fuelled the growing British Empire. During this time Britain, like other great powers, was involved in colonial exploitation, including the Atlantic slave trade, although with the passing of the Slave Trade Act of 1807 the United Kingdom took a leading role in combatting the trade in slaves.[53] The colonies in North America had been the main focus of British colonial activity. However, with their loss following the American War of Independence, imperial ambition turned to other parts of the globe, particularly India.[54]

In 1800, while the wars with France still raged, the Parliaments of Great Britain and of Ireland each passed an Act of Union, uniting the two kingdoms and creating the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, which came into being on 1 January 1801.[55]

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After the defeat of France in the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars (1792–1815), the United Kingdom emerged as the principal naval and economic power of the 19th century (with London the largest city in the world from about 1830 to 1930)[56] and remained a foremost power into the mid-20th century.[57] Unchallenged at sea, Britain adopted the role of global policeman, a state of affairs later known as the Pax Britannica.[58] It was also a period of rapid economic, colonial, and industrial growth. Britain was described as the "workshop of the world",[59] and the British Empire grew to include India, large parts of Africa, and many other territories across the world. Alongside the formal control it exerted over its own colonies, Britain's dominant position in world trade meant that it effectively controlled the economies of many countries, such as China, Argentina and Siam.[60][61] Domestically, there was a shift to free trade and laissez-faire policies and a very significant widening of the voting franchise. The country saw a huge population increase during the century, accompanied by rapid urbanization, resulting in significant social and economic stresses.[62] By the end of the century, other states began to challenge Britain's industrial dominance.[63]

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The UK, along with Russia, France and (after 1917) the USA, was one of the major powers opposing the German Empire and its allies in World War I (1914–18).[64] The UK armed forces grew to over five million people[65] engaged across much of its empire and several regions of Europe, and increasingly took a major role on the Western front. The nation suffered an estimated two and a half million casualties and finished the war with a huge national debt.[65] After the war the United Kingdom received the League of Nations mandate over former German and Ottoman colonies, and the British Empire had expanded to its greatest extent, covering a fifth of the world's land surface and a quarter of its population.[66] However, the rise of Irish Nationalism and disputes within Ireland over the terms of Irish Home Rule led eventually to the partition of the island in 1921,[67] with the Irish Free State becoming independent with Dominion status in 1922, and Northern Ireland remaining part of the United Kingdom.[68] The Great Depression (1929–32) occurred at a time when the UK was still far from having recovered from the effects of the war, and led to hardship as well as political and social unrest.[69]

The United Kingdom was one of the three main Allies of World War II. Following the defeat of its European allies in the first year of the war, the United Kingdom continued the fight against Germany, notably in the Battle of Britain and the Battle of the Atlantic. After the victory, the UK was one of the Big Three powers that met to plan the post-war world. The war left the United Kingdom financially damaged. However, Marshall Aid and loans from both the United States and Canada helped the UK on the road to recovery.[70]

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The Labour government in the immediate post-war years initiated a radical programme of changes having a significant impact on British society for the following decades.[71] Domestically, major industries and public utilities were nationalized, a Welfare State was established, and a comprehensive publicly-funded healthcare system, the National Health Service, was created.[72] In response to the rise of local nationalism, the Labour government's own ideological sympathies and Britain's now diminished economic position, a policy of decolonisation was initiated with the granting of independence to India and Pakistan in 1947.[73] Over the next three decades most territories of the Empire gained independence and became sovereign members of the Commonwealth of Nations.

Although the new post-war limits of Britain's political role were illustrated by the Suez Crisis of 1956, the UK nevertheless became one of the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council and was the third country to develop a nuclear weapons arsenal (with its first atomic bomb test in 1952). The international spread of the English language also ensured the continuing international influence of its literature and culture, while from the 1960s its popular culture also found influence abroad. As a result of a shortage of workers in the 1950s, the British Government encouraged immigration from Commonwealth countries, thereby transforming Britain into a multi-ethnic society in the following decades.[74] In 1973, the United Kingdom joined the European Economic Community (EEC), and when the EEC became the European Union (EU) in 1992, the UK was one of its 12 founding members. From the late 1960s Northern Ireland suffered communal and paramilitary violence (sometimes affecting elsewhere in the UK and also the Republic of Ireland) conventionally known as the Troubles. It is usually considered to have ended with the Belfast "Good Friday" Agreement of 1998.[75][76][77]

Following a period of global economic slowdown and industrial strife in the 1970s, the Conservative Government of the 1980s initiated a radical policy of deregulation, particularly of the financial sector, flexible labour markets, the sale of state-owned companies (privatisation), and the withdrawal of subsidies to others.[78] Aided, from 1984, by the inflow of substantial North Sea oil revenues, the UK experienced a period of significant economic growth.[79] Around the end of the 20th century there were major changes to the governance of the UK with the establishment of devolved national administrations for Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales following pre-legislative referendums,[80] and the statutory incorporation of the European Convention on Human Rights. Domestic controversy surrounded some of Britain's overseas military deployments in the first decade of the 21st century, particularly in Iraq and Afghanistan.[81]


Main article: Geography of the United Kingdom
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The total area of the United Kingdom is approximately Template:Convert/km2. The country occupies the major part of the British Isles[82] archipelago and includes the island of Great Britain, the north-eastern one-sixth of the island of Ireland and some smaller surrounding islands. It lies between the North Atlantic Ocean and the North Sea with the south-east coast coming within Template:Convert/LoffAoffDbSoff of the coast of northern France, from which it is separated by the English Channel.[83] As of 1993 10% of the UK was forested, 46% used for pastures and 25% used for agriculture.[84] The Royal Greenwich Observatory in London is the defining point of the Prime Meridian.

The United Kingdom lies between latitudes 49° to 61° N, and longitudes 9° W to 2° E. Northern Ireland shares a Template:Convert/LoffAoffDbSon land boundary with the Republic of Ireland.[83] The coastline of Great Britain is Template:Convert/LoffAoffDbSoff long.[85] It is connected to continental Europe by the Channel Tunnel, which at Template:Convert/LoffAoffDbSoff (Template:Convert/LoffAoffDbSoff underwater) is the longest underwater tunnel in the world.[86]

England accounts for just over half of the total area of the UK, covering Template:Convert/km2.[87] Most of the country consists of lowland terrain,[84] 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 (Template:Convert/m) in the Lake District. Its principal rivers are the Severn, Thames, Humber, Tees, Tyne, Tweed, Avon, Exe and Mersey.[84]


Scotland accounts for just under a third of the total area of the UK, covering Template:Convert/km2[88] and including nearly eight hundred islands,[89] predominantly 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 Scotland from Arran in the west to Stonehaven in the east.[90] The faultline 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 land, including Ben Nevis which at Template:Convert/m is the highest point in the British Isles.[91] 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, its capital and political centre.

Wales accounts for less than a tenth of the total area of the UK, covering Template:Convert/km2.[92] 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, Swansea and Newport, and the South Wales Valleys to their north. The highest mountains in Wales are in Snowdonia and include Snowdon (Template:Lang-cy) which, at Template:Convert/m, is the highest peak in Wales.[84] 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 Template:Convert/km2 and is mostly hilly. It includes Lough Neagh which, at Template:Convert/km2, is the largest lake in the British Isles by area.[93] The highest peak in Northern Ireland is Slieve Donard in the Mourne Mountains at Template:Convert/m.[84]


Main article: Climate of the United Kingdom

The United Kingdom has a temperate climate, with plentiful rainfall all year round.[83] The temperature varies with the seasons seldom dropping below Template:Convert/C or rising above Template:Convert/C.[94] The prevailing wind is from the south-west and bears frequent spells of mild and wet weather from the Atlantic Ocean,[83] although the eastern parts are mostly sheltered from this wind  – as the majority of the rain falls over the western regions the eastern parts are therefore the driest. Atlantic currents, warmed by the Gulf Stream, bring mild winters; especially in the west where winters are wet and even moreso 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.

Administrative divisionsEdit

Main article: Administrative geography of the United Kingdom
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Each country of the United Kingdom has its own system of administrative and geographic demarcation, which often has origins that pre-date the formation of the United Kingdom itself. Consequently there is "no common stratum of administrative unit encompassing the United Kingdom".[95] Until the 19th century there was little change to those arrangements, but there has since been a constant evolution of role and function.[96] Change did not occur 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 organisation 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, as 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.[97] One region, Greater London, has had a directly elected assembly and mayor since 2000 following popular support for the proposal in a referendum.[98] It was intended that other regions would also be given their own elected regional assemblies but the rejection of a proposed assembly in the North East region, by a referendum in 2004, stopped this idea in its tracks.[99] Below the region level England has either county councils and district councils or unitary authorities and London which consists of 32 London boroughs. Councillors are elected by the first-past-the-post system in single-member wards or by the multi-member plurality system in multi-member wards.[100]

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 is the 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 councillors, of which there are currently 1,222[101] and 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.[102] The representative association of Scotland's local authorities is the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA).[103]

Local government in Wales consists of 22 unitary authorities. These include the cities of Cardiff, Swansea and Newport which are unitary authorities in their own right.[104] Elections are held every four years under the first-past-the-post system.[105] The most recent elections were held in May 2008. The Welsh Local Government Association represents the interests of local authorities in Wales.[106]

Local government in Northern Ireland has, since 1973, been organised into 26 district councils, each elected by single transferable vote. Their powers are limited to services such as collecting waste, controlling dogs, and maintaining parks and cemeteries.[107] On 13 March 2008 the executive agreed on proposals to create 11 new councils and replace the present system.[108] The next local elections were postponed until 2011 to facilitate this.[109]


Main article: British Overseas Territories
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The United Kingdom has sovereignty over seventeen territories which do not form part of the United Kingdom itself: 14 British Overseas Territories[110] and three Crown Dependencies.

The fourteen British Overseas Territories are: Anguilla; Bermuda; the British Antarctic Territory; the British Indian Ocean Territory; the British Virgin Islands; the Cayman Islands; the Falkland Islands; Gibraltar; Montserrat; Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha; the Turks and Caicos Islands; the Pitcairn Islands; South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands; and the Sovereign Base Areas on Cyprus.[111] British claims in Antarctica are not universally recognised.[112] Collectively Britain's overseas territories encompass an approximate land area of Template:Convert/sqmi and a population of approximately 260,000 people.[113] They are the remnants of the British Empire and several have specifically voted to remain British territories.

The Crown Dependencies are British possessions of the Crown, as opposed to overseas territories of the UK.[114] They comprise the Channel Island Bailiwicks of Jersey and Guernsey in the English Channel and the Isle of Man in the Irish Sea. Being independently administered jurisdictions they do not form part of the United Kingdom or of the European Union, although the UK government manages their foreign affairs and defence and the UK Parliament has the authority to legislate on their behalf. The power to pass legislation affecting the islands ultimately rests with their own respective legislative assemblies, with the assent of the Crown (Privy Council or, in the case of the Isle of Man, in certain circumstances the Lieutenant-Governor).[115] Since 2005 each Crown dependency has had a Chief Minister as its head of government.


Main article: Politics of the United Kingdom
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The United Kingdom is a unitary state under a constitutional monarchy. Queen Elizabeth II is the head of state of the UK as well as of fifteen other independent Commonwealth countries. The United Kingdom has an uncodified constitution,[116] as do only three other countries in the world.[note 3] The Constitution of the United Kingdom thus consists mostly of a collection of disparate written sources, including statutes, judge-made case law and international treaties, together with constitutional conventions. 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 political 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.[117]


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. 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 as well as the devolved assemblies in Northern Ireland and Wales are not sovereign bodies and could, theoretically, be abolished by the UK parliament.

The position of prime minister, the UK's head of government,[118] 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.[119]

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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 the Privy Council of the United Kingdom, and become Ministers of the Crown. The Rt. Hon. David Cameron, leader of the Conservative Party, has been Prime Minister, First Lord of the Treasury and Minister for the Civil Service since 11 May 2010.[120] For elections to the House of Commons, the UK is currently divided into 650 constituencies[121] with each electing a single member of parliament by simple plurality. General elections are called by the monarch when the prime minister so advises. The Parliament Acts 1911 and 1949 require that a new election must be called within five years of the previous general election.[122]

The UK's three major political parties are the Conservative Party, the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats. During the 2010 general election these three parties won 622 out of 650 seats available in the House of Commons; 621 seats at the 2010 general election[123] and 1 more at the delayed by-election in Thirsk and Malton.[124] Most of the remaining seats were won by minor parties that only contest elections in one part of the UK: the Scottish National Party (Scotland only); Plaid Cymru (Wales only); and the Democratic Unionist Party, Social Democratic and Labour Party, Ulster Unionist Party, and Sinn Féin (Northern Ireland only, though Sinn Féin also contests elections in the Republic of Ireland). In accordance with party policy no elected Sinn Féin member of parliament has ever attended the House of Commons to speak on behalf of their constituents – this is because members of parliament are required to take an oath of allegiance to the monarch. The current five Sinn Féin MPs have however, since 2002, made use of the offices and other facilities available at Westminster.[125] For elections to the European Parliament the UK currently has 72 MEPs, elected in 12 multi-member constituencies.[126]

Devolved national administrationsEdit

Main article: Northern Ireland Executive
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Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland each have their 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 Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland can vote, sometimes decisively,[127] on matters affecting England that are handled by devolved legislatures for their own constituencies.[128]

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.[129] Following its victory at the 2007 elections the pro-independence Scottish National Party (SNP) formed a minority government with its leader, Alex Salmond, becoming First Minister of Scotland.[130] The pro-union parties responded to the electoral success of the SNP by creating a Commission on Scottish Devolution[131] which reported in 2009 and recommended that additional powers should be devolved, including control of half the income tax raised in Scotland.[132] At the 2011 elections the SNP won re-election and achieved an overall majority in the Scottish parliament.[133]

The Welsh Government and the National Assembly for Wales have more limited powers than those devolved to Scotland,.[134] Following the passing of the Government of Wales Act 2006 the assembly was able to legislate in devolved areas through Assembly Measures once permission to legislate on that specific matter had been granted by Westminster through a Legislative Competence Order;[135] but since May 2011 the Assembly has been able to legislate on devolved matters through Acts of the Assembly, which require no prior consent. The current Welsh Government was formed after the 2011 elections, and is a minority Labour administration lead by Carwyn Jones, who had been First Minister of a Labour/Plaid Cymru administration since December 2009.[136]

The Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly have powers closer to those already devolved to Scotland. The Northern Ireland Executive is led by a diarchy, currently First Minister Peter Robinson (Democratic Unionist Party) and deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness (Sinn Féin).[137]

Law and criminal justiceEdit

Main article: Law of the United Kingdom
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The United Kingdom does not have a single legal system since it was created by the political union of previously independent countries, with Article 19 of the Treaty of Union guaranteeing the continued existence of Scotland's separate legal system.[138] Today the UK has three distinct systems of law; English law, Northern Ireland law and Scots law. Recent constitutional changes saw a new Supreme Court of the United Kingdom come into being in October 2009 to replace the Appellate Committee of the House of Lords.[139][140] The Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, including the same members as the Supreme Court, is the highest court of appeal for several independent Commonwealth countries, the UK overseas territories and the British crown dependencies.

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Both English law, which applies in England and Wales, and Northern Ireland law are based on common-law principles.[141] The essence of common law is that, subject to statute, the law is developed by judges in courts, applying statute, precedent and common sense to the facts before them to give explanatory judgements of the relevant legal principles, which are reported and binding in future similar cases (stare decisis).[142] The courts of England and Wales are headed by the Senior Courts of England and Wales, consisting of the Court of Appeal, the High Court of Justice (for civil cases) and the Crown Court (for criminal cases). The Supreme Court is the highest court in the land for both criminal and civil appeal cases in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland and any decision it makes is binding on every other court in the same jurisdiction, often having a persuasive effect in other jurisdictions.[143]

Scots law applies in Scotland, a hybrid system based on both common-law and civil-law principles. The chief courts are the Court of Session, for civil cases,[144] and the High Court of Justiciary, for criminal cases.[145] The Supreme Court of the United Kingdom serves as the highest court of appeal for civil cases under Scots law.[146] Sheriff courts deal with most civil and criminal cases including conducting criminal trials with a jury, known as sheriff solemn court, or with a sheriff and no jury, known as sheriff summary Court.[147] The Scots legal system is unique in having three possible verdicts for a criminal trial: "guilty", "not guilty" and "not proven". Both "not guilty" and "not proven" result in an acquittal with no possibility of retrial.[148]

Crime in England and Wales increased in the period between 1981 and 1995, though since that peak there has been an overall fall of 48% in crime from 1995 to 2007/08,[149] according to crime statistics. The prison population of England and Wales has almost doubled over the same period, to over 80,000, giving England and Wales the highest rate of incarceration in Western Europe at 147 per 100,000.[150] Her Majesty's Prison Service, which reports to the Ministry of Justice, manages most of the prisons within England and Wales. Crime in Scotland fell to its lowest recorded level for 32 years in 2009/10, falling by ten percent.[151] At the same time Scotland's prison population, at over 8,000,[152] is hitting record levels and is well above design capacity.[153] The Scottish Prison Service, which reports to the Cabinet Secretary for Justice, manages Scotland's prisons. In 2006 a report by the Surveillance Studies Network found that the UK had the highest level of mass surveillance among industrialised western nations.[154]

Foreign relationsEdit

Main article: Foreign relations of the United Kingdom
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The United Kingdom is a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, a member of the Commonwealth of Nations, G7, G8, G20, NATO, the OECD, the WTO, the Council of Europe, the OSCE, and is a member state of the European Union. The UK has a "Special Relationship" with the United States[155][156] and a close partnership with France – the "Entente cordiale" – and shares nuclear weapons technology with both countries. Other close allies include other European Union and NATO members, Commonwealth nations, and Japan. Britain's global presence and influence is further amplified through its trading relations, foreign investments, official development assistance and armed forces.[157]


Main article: British Armed Forces
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The United Kingdom fields one of the most technologically advanced and best trained armed forces in the world and as of 2008 maintained at least 20 military deployments around the globe.[158][159][160] According to various sources, including the Ministry of Defence, the UK has the third- or fourth-highest military expenditure in the world, despite only having the 25th largest military in terms of manpower. Total defence spending currently accounts for 2.5% of total national GDP.[161] The British Army, Royal Air Force and Royal Navy are collectively known as the British Armed Forces and officially as HM Armed Forces. The three forces are managed by the Ministry of Defence and controlled by the Defence Council, chaired by the Secretary of State for Defence.

The UK maintains the largest air force and navy in the EU and second-largest in NATO. The Royal Navy is a blue-water navy, currently one of only three (with the French Navy and the United States Navy).[162] The Ministry of Defence signed contracts worth £3.2bn to build two new supercarrier-sized aircraft carriers on 3 July 2008.[163] In early 2009 the British Army had a reported strength of 105,750, the Royal Air Force had 43,300 personnel and the Navy 38,160.[164] The United Kingdom Special Forces, such as the Special Air Service and Special Boat Service, provide troops trained for quick, mobile, military responses in counter-terrorism, land, maritime and amphibious operations, often where secrecy or covert tactics are required. There are reserve forces supporting the active military. These include the Territorial Army, the Royal Naval Reserve, Royal Marines Reserve and the Royal Auxiliary Air Force. Active and reserve duty military personnel total approximately 404,090.[164]

The British Armed Forces are charged with protecting the UK and its overseas territories, promoting the UK's global security interests and supporting international peacekeeping efforts. They are active and regular participants in NATO, including the Allied Rapid Reaction Corps, as well as the Five Power Defence Arrangements, RIMPAC and other worldwide coalition operations. Overseas garrisons and facilities are maintained in Ascension Island, Belize, Brunei, Canada, Cyprus, Diego Garcia, the Falkland Islands, Germany, Gibraltar, Kenya and Qatar.[165]

Despite the United Kingdom's military capabilities, recent defence policy has a stated assumption that "the most demanding operations" will be undertaken as part of a coalition.[166] Setting aside the intervention in Sierra Leone their operations in Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq may all be taken as precedent. The last war in which the British military fought alone was the Falklands War of 1982, in which they were victorious.


Main article: Economy of the United Kingdom
File:City of London skyline from London City Hall - Oct 2008.jpg

The UK has a partially regulated market economy.[170] Based on market exchange rates the UK is today the sixth-largest economy in the world and the third-largest in Europe after Germany and France, having fallen behind France for the first time in over a decade in 2008.[171] HM Treasury, led by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, is responsible for developing and executing the British government's public finance policy and economic policy. The Bank of England is the UK's central bank and is responsible for issuing the nation's currency, the pound sterling. 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 their issue. Pound sterling is the world's third-largest reserve currency (after the U.S. Dollar and the Euro).[172] 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.[173]

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In the final quarter of 2008 the UK economy officially entered recession for the first time since 1991.[174] Unemployment increased from 5.2% in May 2008 to 7.6% in May 2009 and by January 2011 the unemployment rate among 18 to 24-year-olds had risen from 11.9% to 20.3%, the highest since current records began in 1992.[175] Total UK government debt rose from 44.5% of GDP in December 2007 to 76.1% of GDP in December 2010.[176][177]

The UK service sector makes up around 73% of GDP.[178] London is one of the three "command centres" of the the global economy (alongside New York City and Tokyo),[179] is the world's largest financial centre alongside New York,[167][169][180] and has the largest city GDP in Europe.[181] Edinburgh is also one of the largest financial centres in Europe.[182] Tourism is very important to the British economy and, with over 27 million tourists arriving in 2004, the United Kingdom is ranked as the sixth major tourist destination in the world[183] and London has the most international visitors of any city in the world.[184] The creative industries accounted for 7% GVA in 2005 and grew at an average of 6% per annum between 1997 and 2005.[185]

The Industrial Revolution started in the UK[186] with an initial concentration on the textile industry, followed by other heavy industries such as shipbuilding, coal mining, and Steelmaking.[187][188] The empire created an overseas market for British products, allowing the UK to dominate international trade in the 19th century. As other nations industrialised, 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.[189]

The automotive industry is a significant part of the UK manufacturing sector and employs over 800,000 people, with a turnover of some £52 billion, generating £26.6 billion of exports.[190] The aerospace industry of the UK is the second- or third-largest national aerospace industry depending upon the method of measurement and has an annual turnover of around £20 billion.[191][192][193] The pharmaceutical industry plays an important role in the UK economy and the country has the third highest share of global pharmaceutical R&D expenditures (after the United States and Japan).[194][195]

The poverty line in the UK is commonly defined as being 60% of the median household income.[note 4] In 2007–2008 13.5 million people, or 22% of the population, lived below this line. This is a higher level of relative poverty than all but four other EU members.[196] In the same year 4.0 million children, 31% of the total, lived in households below the poverty line after housing costs were taken into account. This is a decrease of 400,000 children since 1998–1999.[197] The UK imports 40% of its food supplies.[198]

Science and technologyEdit

Main article: Science and technology in the United Kingdom
File:Charles Darwin aged 51.jpg

England and Scotland were leading centres of the Scientific Revolution from the 17th century[199] and the United Kingdom led the Industrial Revolution from the 18th century,[186] and has continued to produce scientists and engineers credited with important advances.[200] Major theorists from the 17th and 18th centuries include Isaac Newton, whose laws of motion and illumination of gravity have been seen as a keystone of modern science,[201] from the 19th century Charles Darwin, whose theory of evolution by natural selection was fundamental to the development of modern biology, and James Clerk Maxwell, who formulated classical electromagnetic theory, and more recently Stephen Hawking, who has advanced major theories in the fields of cosmology, quantum gravity and the investigation of black holes.[202] Major scientific discoveries from the 18th century include hydrogen by Henry Cavendish,[203] from the 20th century penicillin by Alexander Fleming,[204] and the structure of DNA, by Francis Crick and others.[205] Major engineering projects and applications by people from the UK in the 18th century include the steam locomotive, developed by Richard Trevithick and Andrew Vivian,[206] from the 19th century the electric motor by Michael Faraday, the incandescent light bulb by Joseph Swan,[207] and the first practical telephone, patented by Alexander Graham Bell,[208] and in the 20th century the world's first working television system by John Logie Baird and others,[209] the jet engine by Frank Whittle, the basis of the modern computer by Alan Turing, and the World Wide Web by Tim Berners-Lee.[210]

The modern UK plays a leading part in the aerospace industry, with companies including Rolls-Royce playing a leading role in the aero-engine market; BAE Systems acting as Britain's largest and the Pentagon's sixth largest defence supplier, and large companies including GKN acting as major suppliers to the Airbus project.[211] Two British-based companies, GlaxoSmithKline and AstraZeneca, ranked in the top five pharmaceutical companies in the world by sales in 2009,[212] and UK companies have discovered and developed more leading medicines than any other country apart from the US.[213] The UK remains a leading centre of automotive design and production, particularly of engines, and has around 2,600 component manufacturers.[214] Scientific research and development remains important in British universities, with many establishing science parks to facilitate production and co-operation with industry.[215] Between 2004 and 2008 the UK produced 7% of the world's scientific research papers and had an 8% share of scientific citations, the third and second highest in the world (after the United States and China and the United States respectively).[216] Scientific journals produced in the UK include Nature, the British Medical Journal and The Lancet.[217]


Main article: Transport in the United Kingdom
File:Heathrow T5.jpg

A radial road network totals Template:Convert/LoffAoffDbSoff of main roads, Template:Convert/LoffAoffDbSoff of motorways and Template:Convert/LoffAoffDbSoff of paved roads.[83] In 2009 there were a total of 34 million licensed vehicles in Great Britain.[220] The National Rail network of 10,072 route miles (16,116 km) in Great Britain and 189 route miles (303 route km) in Northern Ireland carries over 18,000 passenger and 1,000 freight trains daily.[83] Plans are now being considered to build new high-speed railway lines by 2025.[221]

In the year from October 2009 to September 2010 UK airports handled a total of 211.4 million passengers.[222] In that period the three largest airports were London Heathrow Airport (65.6 million passengers), Gatwick Airport (31.5 million passengers) and London Stansted Airport (18.9 million passengers).[222] London Heathrow Airport, located Template:Convert/LoffAoffDbSoff west of the capital, has the most international passenger traffic of any airport in the world[218][219] and is the hub for the UK flag carrier British Airways, as well as BMI and Virgin Atlantic.[223]


Main article: Energy in the United Kingdom
File:Oil platform in the North SeaPros.jpg

In 2006 the UK was the world's ninth-largest consumer of energy and the 15th largest producer.[224] In 2007 the UK had a total energy output of 9.5 quadrillion Btus, of which the composition was oil (38%), natural gas (36%), coal (13%), nuclear (11%) and other renewables (2%).[225] In 2009 the UK produced 1.5 million barrels per day (bbl/d) of oil and consumed 1.7 million bbl/d.[226] Production is now in decline and the UK has been a net importer of oil since 2005.[226] As of 2010 the UK has around 3.1 billion barrels of proven crude oil reserves, the largest of any EU member state.[226]

In 2009 the UK was the 13th largest producer of natural gas in the world and the largest producer in the EU.[227] Production is now in decline and the UK has been a net importer of natural gas since 2004.[227] In 2009 the UK produced 19.7 million tons of coal and consumed 60.2 million tons.[225] In 2005 it had proven recoverable coal reserves of 171 million tons.[225] It has been estimated that identified onshore areas have the potential to produce between 7 billion tonnes and 16 billion tonnes of coal through underground coal gasification (UCG).[228] Based on current UK coal consumption, these volumes represent reserves that could last the UK between 200 and 400 years.[229] The UK is home to a number of large energy companies, including two of the six oil and gas "supermajors" – BP and Royal Dutch Shell – and BG Group.[230][231]


Main article: Demography of the United Kingdom

A Census occurs simultaneously in all parts of the UK every ten years.[232] The Office for National Statistics is responsible for collecting data for England and Wales with the General Register Office for Scotland and the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency each being responsible for censuses in their respective countries.[233] In the 2001 census the total population of the United Kingdom was 58,789,194, the third largest in the European Union, the fifth largest in the Commonwealth and the twenty-first largest in the world. By mid-2009 this was estimated to have grown to 61,792,000.[234] In 2008 natural population growth overtook net migration as the main contributor to population growth for the first time since 1998.[235] Between 2001 and 2008 the population increased by an average annual rate of 0.5 per cent. This compares to 0.3 per cent per year in the period 1991 to 2001 and 0.2 per cent in the decade 1981 to 1991.[235] Published in 2008 the mid-2007 population estimates revealed that, for the first time, the UK was home to more people of pensionable age than children under the age of 16.[236] It has been estimated that the number of people aged 100 or over will rise steeply to reach over 626,000 by 2080.[237]

England's population in mid-2008 was estimated to be 51.44 million.[235] It is one of the most densely populated countries in the world, with 383 people resident per square kilometre in mid-2003,[238] with a particular concentration in London and the south east.[239] The mid-2008 estimates put Scotland's population at 5.17 million, Wales at 2.99 million and Northern Ireland at 1.78 million,[235] with much lower population densities than England. Compared to England's Template:Convert/PD/km2 the corresponding figures were Template:Convert/PD/km2 for Wales, Template:Convert/PD/km2 for Northern Ireland and just Template:Convert/PD/km2 for Scotland in mid-2003.[238] In percentage terms Northern Ireland has had the fastest growing population of any country of the UK in each of the four years to mid-2008.[235]

In 2008 the average total fertility rate (TFR) across the UK was 1.96 children per woman.[240] Whilst a rising birth rate is contributing to current population growth it remains considerably below the 'baby boom' peak of 2.95 children per woman in 1964,[241] below the replacement rate of 2.1, but higher than the 2001 record low of 1.63.[240] Scotland had the lowest fertility at only 1.8 children per woman, while Northern Ireland had the highest at 2.11 children in 2008.[240]

Template:Largest cities of the United Kingdom

Ethnic groupsEdit

Main article: Ethnic groups in the United Kingdom
Ethnic group Population  % of total*
White British 50,366,497 85.67%
White (other) 3,096,169 5.27%
Indian 1,053,411 1.8%
Pakistani 977,285 1.6%
White Irish 691,232 1.2%
Mixed race 677,117 1.2%
Black Caribbean Template:Commas 1.0%
Black African 485,277 0.8%
Bangladeshi 283,063 0.5%
Other Asian (non-Chinese) 247,644 0.4%
Chinese 247,403 0.4%
Other 230,615 0.4%
Black (others) 97,585 0.2%

Historically, indigenous British people were thought to be descended from the various ethnic groups that settled there before the 11th century: the Celts, Romans, Anglo-Saxons, Norse and the Normans. Recent genetic studies have shown that more than 50 percent of England's gene pool contains Germanic Y chromosomes,[242] though other recent genetic analysis indicates that "about 75 per cent of the traceable ancestors of the modern British population had arrived in the British isles by about 6,200 years ago, at the start of the British Neolithic or Stone Age", and that the British broadly share a common ancestry with the Basque people.[243][244][245]

The UK has a history of small-scale non-white immigration, with Liverpool having the oldest Black population in the country dating back to at least the 1730s,[246] and the oldest Chinese community in Europe, dating to the arrival of Chinese seamen in the 19th century.[247] In 1950 there were probably less than 20,000 non-white residents in Britain, almost all born overseas.[248]

Since 1945 substantial immigration from Africa, the Caribbean and South Asia has been a legacy of ties forged by the British Empire. Migration from new EU member states in Central and Eastern Europe since 2004 has resulted in growth in these population groups but, as of 2008, the trend is reversing and many of these migrants are returning home, leaving the size of these groups unknown.[249] As of 2001 92.1% of the population identified themselves as White, leaving 7.9%[250] of the UK population identifying themselves as mixed race or of an ethnic minority.

Ethnic diversity varies significantly across the UK. 30.4% of London's population[251] and 37.4% of Leicester's[252] was estimated to be non-white as of June 2005, whereas less than 5% of the populations of North East England, Wales and the South West were from ethnic minorities according to the 2001 census.[253] As of 2011, 26.5% of primary and 22.2% of secondary pupils at state schools in England are members of an ethnic minority.[254]


Main article: Languages of the United Kingdom

The UK's official language is English,[257][258] a West Germanic language descended from Old English which features a large number of borrowings from Old Norse, Norman French and Latin. The English language has spread across the world, largely because of the British Empire, and has become the international language of business as well as the most widely taught second language.[259]

Scots, a language descended from early northern Middle English, is recognised at European level, as is its regional variant in the northern counties of Ireland, Ulster Scots.[260] There are also four Celtic languages in use in the UK: Welsh, Irish, Scottish Gaelic and Cornish. In the 2001 Census over a fifth (21%) of the population of Wales said they could speak Welsh,[261] an increase from the 1991 Census (18%).[262] In addition it is estimated that about 200,000 Welsh speakers live in England.[263]

The 2001 census in Northern Ireland showed that 167,487 (10.4%) people "had some knowledge of Irish" (see Irish language in Northern Ireland), almost exclusively in the Catholic/nationalist population. Over 92,000 people in Scotland (just under 2% of the population) had some Gaelic language ability, including 72% of those living in the Outer Hebrides.[264] The number of schoolchildren being taught in Welsh, Gaelic and Irish is increasing.[265] Welsh and Scottish Gaelic are also spoken by small groups around the globe with some Gaelic still spoken in Nova Scotia, Canada (especially Cape Breton Island),[266] and Welsh in Patagonia, Argentina.[267]

Across the United Kingdom it is generally compulsory for pupils to study a second language to some extent: up to the age of 14 in England,[268] and up to age 16 in Scotland. French and German are the two most commonly taught second languages in England and Scotland. In Wales, all pupils up to age 16 are either taught in Welsh or taught Welsh as a second language.[269]


Main article: Religion in the United Kingdom
File:Westminster Abbey - West Door.jpg

Forms of Christianity have dominated religious life in what is now the United Kingdom for over 1,400 years.[270] Although a majority of citizens still identify with Christianity in many surveys, regular church attendance has fallen dramatically since the middle of the 20th century,[271] while immigration and demographic change have contributed to the growth of other faiths, most notably Islam.[272] This has led some commentators to variously describe the UK as a multi-faith,[273] secularised,[274] or post-Christian society.[275] In the 2001 census 71.6% of all respondents indicated that they were Christians, with the next largest faiths (by number of adherents) being Islam (2.8%), Hinduism (1.0%), Sikhism (0.6%), Judaism (0.5%), Buddhism (0.3%) and all other religions (0.3%).[276] 15% of respondents stated that they had no religion, with a further 7% not stating a religious preference.[277] A Tearfund survey in 2007 showed only one in ten Britons actually attend church weekly.[278]

The (Anglican) Church of England is the established church in England.[279] It retains a representation in the UK Parliament and the British monarch is its Supreme Governor.[280] In Scotland the Presbyterian Church of Scotland is recognised as the national church. It is not subject to state control, and the British monarch is an ordinary member, required to swear an oath to "maintain and preserve the Protestant Religion and Presbyterian Church Government" upon his or her accession.[281][282] The Church in Wales was disestablished in 1920, and there is no established church in Northern Ireland.[283] Although there are no UK-wide data in the 2001 census on adherence to individual Christian denominations, Ceri Peach has estimated that 62% of Christians are Anglican, 13.5% Roman Catholic, 6% Presbyterian, 3.4% Methodist with small numbers of other Protestant denominations and the Orthodox church.[284]


Main article: Immigration to the United Kingdom since 1922
File:United Kingdom foreign born population by country of birth.png

The United Kingdom has experienced successive waves of migration. The Great Famine brought a large influx of Irish immigrants.[285] Over 120,000 Polish veterans settled in Britain after World War II, unable to return home.[286] In the 20th century there was significant immigration from the British Empire, driven largely by post-World War II labour shortages. Many of these migrants came from the Caribbean and the Indian subcontinent.[287]

The proportion of foreign-born people in the UK remains slightly below that of some other European countries,[288] although immigration is now contributing to a rising population,[289] accounting for about half of the population increase between 1991 and 2001. Analysis of Office for National Statistics data shows that 2.3 million net migrants moved to the UK in the period 1991 to 2006.[290][291] In 2008 it was predicted that migration would add 7 million to the UK population by 2031,[292] though these figures are disputed.[293] The latest provisional official figures show that, in 2010, 586,000 people arrived to live in the UK while 344,000 left, meaning that net inward migration was 242,000.[294][295]

A record 203,790 foreign nationals became British citizens in 2009.[296] 194,780 people were granted permanent settlement rights in 2009, of whom people from the Indian subcontinent accounted for 34 per cent, 25 per cent were from Africa and 21 per cent from elsewhere in Asia.[297][298] 24.7 per cent of babies born in England and Wales in 2009 were born to mothers born outside the UK, according to official statistics released in 2010.[299]

File:British expats countrymap.svg

At least 5.5 million British-born people are living abroad,[300][301][302] the top four destinations being Australia, Spain, the United States and Canada.[300][303] Emigration was an important feature of British society in the 19th century. Between 1815 and 1930 around 11.4 million people emigrated from Britain and 7.3 million from Ireland. Estimates show that by the end of the 20th century some 300 million people of British and Irish descent were permanently settled around the globe.[304]

Citizens of the European Union have the right to live and work in any member state, including the UK.[305] Transitional arrangements apply to Romanians and Bulgarians whose countries joined the EU in January 2007.[306] Research conducted by the Migration Policy Institute for the Equality and Human Rights Commission suggests that, between May 2004 and September 2009, 1.5 million workers migrated from the new EU member states to the UK, two thirds of them Polish, but that many have since returned home, resulting in a net increase in the number of nationals of the new member states in the UK of some 700,000 over that period.[307][308] The late-2000s recession in the UK reduced the economic incentive for Poles to migrate to the UK,[309] with the migration becoming temporary and circular.[310] In 2009, for the first time since enlargement, more nationals of the eight central and eastern European states that had joined the EU in 2004 left the UK than arrived.[311]

The UK government is currently introducing a points-based immigration system for immigration from outside the European Economic Area that will replace existing schemes, including the Scottish Government's Fresh Talent Initiative.[312] In June 2010 the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government introduced a temporary cap on immigration of those entering the UK from outside the EU, with the limit set at 24,100, in order to stop an expected rush of applications before a permanent cap is imposed in April 2011.[313] The cap has caused tension within the coalition: business secretary Vince Cable has argued that it is harming British businesses.[314]


Main article: Education in the United Kingdom

Education in the United Kingdom is a devolved matter, with each country having a separate education system.

Education in England is the responsibility of the Secretary of State for Education, though the day-to-day administration and funding of state schools is the responsibility of local authorities.[315] Universally free of charge state education was introduced piecemeal between 1870 and 1944, with education becoming compulsory for all 5 to 14 year-olds in 1921.[316][317] Education is now mandatory from ages five to sixteen (15 if born in late July or August). The majority of children are educated in state-sector schools, only a small proportion of which select on the grounds of academic ability. State schools which are allowed to select pupils according to intelligence and academic ability can achieve comparable results to the most selective private schools: out of the top ten performing schools in terms of GCSE results in 2006 two were state-run grammar schools. Despite a fall in actual numbers the proportion of children in England attending private schools has risen to over 7%.[318] Over half of students at the leading universities of Cambridge and Oxford had attended state schools.[319] The universities of England include some of the top universities in the world; the University of Cambridge, University College London, the University of Oxford and Imperial College London are all ranked in the global top 10 in the 2010 QS World University Rankings, with Cambridge ranked first.[320] Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) rated pupils in England 7th in the world for maths and 6th for science. The results put England's pupils ahead of other European countries, including Germany and the Scandinavian countries.[321]


Education in Scotland is the responsibility of the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning, with day-to-day administration and funding of state schools the responsibility of Local Authorities. Two non-departmental public bodies have key roles in Scottish education: the Scottish Qualifications Authority is responsible for the development, accreditation, assessment and certification of qualifications other than degrees which are delivered at secondary schools, post-secondary colleges of further education and other centres;[323] and Learning and Teaching Scotland provides advice, resources and staff development to the education community to promote curriculum development and create a culture of innovation, ambition and excellence.[324] Scotland first legislated for compulsory education in 1496.[325] The proportion of children in Scotland attending private schools is just over 4%, although it has been rising slowly in recent years.[326] Scottish students who attend Scottish universities pay neither tuition fees nor graduate endowment charges, as fees were abolished in 2001 and the graduate endowment scheme was abolished in 2008.[327]

Education in Northern Ireland is the responsibility of the Minister of Education and the Minister for Employment and Learning, although responsibility at a local level is administered by five education and library boards covering different geographical areas. The Council for the Curriculum, Examinations & Assessment (CCEA) is the body responsible for advising the government on what should be taught in Northern Ireland's schools, monitoring standards and awarding qualifications.[328] The Welsh Government has responsibility for education in Wales. A significant number of Welsh students are taught either wholly or largely in the Welsh language; lessons in Welsh are compulsory for all until the age of 16.[329] There are plans to increase the provision of Welsh-medium schools as part of the policy of creating a fully bilingual Wales.


Main article: Healthcare in the United Kingdom
File:Royal Aberdeen Children's Hospital.jpg

Healthcare in the United Kingdom is a devolved matter and each country has its own system of private and publicly funded health care, together with alternative, holistic and complementary treatments. Public healthcare is provided to all UK permanent residents and is free at the point of need, being paid for from general taxation. The World Health Organization, in 2000, ranked the provision of healthcare in the United Kingdom as fifteenth best in Europe and eighteenth in the world.[330][331]

Regulatory bodies are organised on a UK-wide basis such as the General Medical Council, the Nursing and Midwifery Council and non-governmental-based, such as the Royal Colleges. However, political and operational responsibility for healthcare lies with four national executives; healthcare in England is the responsibility of the UK Government; healthcare in Northern Ireland is the responsibility of the Northern Ireland Executive; healthcare in Scotland is the responsibility of the Scottish Government; and healthcare in Wales is the responsibility of the Welsh Assembly Government. Each National Health Service has different policies and priorities, resulting in contrasts.[332][333]

Since 1979 expenditure on healthcare has been increased significantly to bring it closer to the European Union average.[334] The UK spends around 8.4 per cent of its gross domestic product on healthcare, which is 0.5 percentage points below the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development average and about one percentage point below the average of the European Union.[335]


Main article: Culture of the United Kingdom

The culture of the United Kingdom has been influenced by many factors including: the nation's island status; its history as a western liberal democracy and a major power; as well as being a political union of four countries with each preserving elements of distinctive traditions, customs and symbolism. As a result of the British Empire, British influence can be observed in the language, culture and legal systems of many of its former colonies; including Australia, Canada, India, South Africa and the United States.


Main article: Cinema of the United Kingdom
File:Alfred Hitchcock NYWTSm.jpg

The United Kingdom has had a considerable influence on the history of the cinema. The British directors Alfred Hitchcock and David Lean are among the most critically acclaimed of all-time,[336] with other important directors including Charlie Chaplin, Michael Powell, Carol Reed and Ridley Scott.[337][338][339][340] Many British actors have achieved international fame and critical success, including: Julie Andrews, Richard Burton, Michael Caine, Charlie Chaplin, Sean Connery, Vivien Leigh, David Niven, Laurence Olivier, Peter Sellers and Kate Winslet.[341][342][343][344][345][346][347][348][349][350] Some of the most commercially successful films of all time have been produced in the United Kingdom, including the two highest-grossing film franchises (Harry Potter and James Bond).[351] Ealing Studios has a claim to being the oldest continuously working film studio in the world.[352]

Despite a history of important and successful productions, the industry has often been characterised by a debate about its identity and the level of American and European influence. Many British films are co-productions with American producers, often using both British and American actors, and British actors feature regularly in Hollywood films. Many successful Hollywood films have been based on British people, stories or events, including Titanic, The Lord of the Rings, Pirates of the Caribbean and the 'English Cycle' of Disney animated films.[353]

In 2009 British films grossed around $2 billion worldwide and achieved a market share of around 7% globally and 17% in the United Kingdom.[354] UK box-office takings totalled £944 million in 2009, with around 173 million admissions.[354] The British Film Institute has produced a poll ranking of what it considers to be the 100 greatest British films of all time, the BFI Top 100 British films.[355] The annual British Academy Film Awards, hosted by the British Academy of Film and Television Arts, are the British equivalent of the Oscars.[356]


Main article: British literature

The Chandos portrait, believed to depict William Shakespeare

'British literature' refers to literature associated with the United Kingdom, the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands as well as to literature from England, Wales and Scotland prior to the formation of the UK. Most British literature is in the English language. In 2005, some 206,000 books were published in the United Kingdom and in 2006 it was the largest publisher of books in the world.[357]

The English playwright and poet William Shakespeare is widely regarded as the greatest dramatist of all time.[358][359][360] Shakespeare's contemporaries Christopher Marlowe and Ben Jonson added depth. More recently the playwrights Alan Ayckbourn, Harold Pinter, Michael Frayn, Tom Stoppard and David Edgar have combined elements of surrealism, realism and radicalism.

Notable pre-modern and early-modern English writers include Geoffrey Chaucer (14th century), Thomas Malory (15th century), Sir Thomas More (16th century), and John Milton (17th century). In the 18th century Daniel Defoe (author of Robinson Crusoe) and Samuel Richardson were pioneers of the modern novel. In the 19th century there followed further innovation by Jane Austen, the gothic novelist Mary Shelley, children's writer Lewis Carroll, the Brontë sisters, the social campaigner Charles Dickens, the naturalist Thomas Hardy, the realist George Eliot, the visionary poet William Blake and romantic poet William Wordsworth. Twentieth century English writers include: science-fiction novelist H. G. Wells; the writers of children's classics Rudyard Kipling, A. A. Milne (the creator of Winnie-the-Pooh) and Enid Blyton; the controversial D. H. Lawrence; modernist Virginia Woolf; the satirist Evelyn Waugh; the prophetic novelist George Orwell; the popular novelists W. Somerset Maugham and Graham Greene; the crime writer Agatha Christie (the best-selling novelist of all time);[361] Ian Fleming (the creator of James Bond); the poets T. S. Eliot, Philip Larkin and Ted Hughes; and the fantasy writers J. R. R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis and J. K. Rowling.

File:Dickens by Watkins detail.jpg

Scotland's contributions include the detective writer Arthur Conan Doyle (the creator of Sherlock Holmes), romantic literature by Sir Walter Scott, children's writer J.M. Barrie, the epic adventures of Robert Louis Stevenson and the celebrated poet Robert Burns. More recently the modernist and nationalist Hugh MacDiarmid and Neil M. Gunn contributed to the Scottish Renaissance. A more grim outlook is found in Ian Rankin's stories and the psychological horror-comedy of Iain Banks. Scotland's capital, Edinburgh, was UNESCO's first worldwide City of Literature.[362]

Britain's oldest known poem, Y Gododdin, was probably composed in Cumbric or Old Welsh in the late 6th century and contains the earliest known reference to King Arthur.[363] Geoffrey of Monmouth developed the Arthurian legend with his pseudohistorical account of British history, the Historia Regum Britanniae.[364] Wales' most celebrated medieval poet, Dafydd ap Gwilym (fl 1320–1370), composed Welsh language poetry on themes including nature, religion and especially love. He is widely regarded as one of the greatest European poets of his age.[365] Until the late 19th century the majority of Welsh literature was in Welsh and much of the prose was religious in character. Daniel Owen is credited as the first Welsh-language novelist, publishing Rhys Lewis in 1885. The best-known of the Anglo-Welsh poets are both Thomases. Dylan Thomas became famous on both sides of the Atlantic in the mid 20th century. The Swansea writer is remembered for his poetry – his "Do not go gentle into that good night; Rage, rage against the dying of the light." is one of the most quoted couplets of English language verse – and for his 'play for voices', Under Milk Wood. Influential Church in Wales 'poet-priest' and Welsh nationalist, R. S. Thomas, was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1996. Leading Welsh novelists include Richard Llewellyn and Kate Roberts.

Authors of other nationalities, particularly from Commonwealth countries, the Republic of Ireland and the United States, have lived and worked in the UK. Significant examples through the centuries include Jonathan Swift, Oscar Wilde, Bram Stoker, George Bernard Shaw, Joseph Conrad, T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound and more recently British authors born abroad such as Kazuo Ishiguro and Sir Salman Rushdie.[366][367]


Main article: Media of the United Kingdom
File:Bbc broadcasting house front.jpg

The BBC, founded in 1922, is the UK's publicly funded radio, television and Internet broadcasting corporation, and is the oldest and largest broadcaster in the world. It operates numerous television and radio stations in the UK and abroad and its domestic services are funded by the television licence.[368][369] Other major players in the UK media include ITV plc, which operates 11 of the 15 regional television broadcasters that make up the ITV Network,[370] and News Corporation, which owns a number of national newspapers through News International such as the most popular tabloid The Sun and the longest-established daily "broadsheet" The Times,[371] as well as holding a large stake in satellite broadcaster British Sky Broadcasting.[372] London dominates the media sector in the UK: national newspapers and television and radio are largely based there, although Manchester is also a significant national media centre. Edinburgh and Glasgow, and Cardiff, are important centres of newspaper and broadcasting production in Scotland and Wales respectively.[373] The UK publishing sector, including books, directories and databases, journals, magazines and business media, newspapers and news agencies, has a combined turnover of around £20 billion and employs around 167,000 people.[374]

In 2009 it was estimated that individuals viewed a mean of 3.75 hours of television per day and 2.81 hours of radio. In that year the main BBC public service broadcasting channels accounted for an estimated 28.4% of all television viewing; the three main independent channels accounted for 29.5% and the increasingly important other satellite and digital channels for the remaining 42.1%.[375] Sales of newspapers have fallen since the 1970s and in 2009 42% of people reported reading a daily national newspaper.[376] In 2010 82.5% of the UK population were Internet users, the highest proportion amongst the 20 countries with the largest total number of users in that year.[377]


Main article: Music of the United Kingdom
File:The Fabs.JPG

Various styles of music are popular in the UK from the indigenous folk music of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland to heavy metal. Notable composers of classical music from the United Kingdom and the countries that preceded it include William Byrd, Henry Purcell, Sir Edward Elgar, Gustav Holst, Sir Arthur Sullivan (most famous for working with librettist Sir W.S. Gilbert), Ralph Vaughan Williams and Benjamin Britten, pioneer of modern British opera. Sir Peter Maxwell Davies is one of the foremost living composers and current Master of the Queen's Music. The UK is also home to world-renowned symphonic orchestras and choruses such as the BBC Symphony Orchestra and the London Symphony Chorus. Notable conductors include Sir Simon Rattle, John Barbirolli and Sir Malcolm Sargent. Some of the notable film score composers include John Barry, Clint Mansell, Mike Oldfield, John Powell, Craig Armstrong, David Arnold, John Murphy, Monty Norman and Harry Gregson-Williams. George Frideric Handel, although born German, was a naturalised British citizen[381] and some of his best works, such as Messiah, were written in the English language.[382] Andrew Lloyd Webber has achieved enormous worldwide commercial success and is a prolific composer of musical theatre, works which have dominated London's West End for a number of years and have travelled to Broadway in New York.[383]

The Beatles have international sales of over one billion units and are the biggest-selling and most influential act in the history of popular music.[378][379][380][384] Other prominent British contributors to have influenced popular music over the last 50 years include Queen, Cliff Richard, the Bee Gees, Elton John, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd and The Rolling Stones; all of whom have world wide record sales of 200 million or more.[385][386][387][388][389][390][391] According to research by Guinness World Records eight of the ten acts with the most UK chart singles are British: Status Quo, Queen, The Rolling Stones, UB40, Depeche Mode, the Bee Gees, the Pet Shop Boys and the Manic Street Preachers.[392][393] More recent UK music acts that have had international success include Coldplay, Radiohead, Oasis, Spice Girls, Amy Winehouse, Muse, Adele and Gorillaz.

A number of UK cities are known for their music. Acts from Liverpool have had more UK chart number one hit singles per capita (54) than any other city worldwide.[394] Glasgow's contribution to music was recognised in 2008 when it was named a UNESCO City of Music, one of only three cities in the world to have this honour.[395]


Main article: British philosophy
File:Bertrand Russell 1950.jpg

The United Kingdom is famous for the tradition of 'British Empiricism', a branch of the philosophy of knowledge that states that only knowledge verified by experience is valid, and 'Scottish Philosophy', sometimes referred to as the 'Scottish School of Common Sense'.[396] The most famous philosophers of British Empiricism are John Locke, George Berkeley and David Hume; while Dugald Stewart, Thomas Reid and William Hamilton were major exponents of the Scottish "common sense" school. Two Britons are also notable for a theory of moral philosophy utilitarianism, first used by Jeremy Bentham and later by John Stuart Mill in his short work Utilitarianism.[397][398] Other eminent philosophers from the UK and the unions and countries that preceded it include Duns Scotus, John Lilburne, Mary Wollstonecraft, Sir Francis Bacon, Adam Smith, Thomas Hobbes, William of Ockham, Bertrand Russell and A.J. "Freddie" Ayer. Foreign-born philosophers who settled in the UK include Isaiah Berlin, Karl Marx, Karl Popper and Ludwig Wittgenstein.

Visual artEdit

Main article: Art of the United Kingdom
File:Joseph Mallord William Turner 083.jpg

The history of British visual art forms part of western art history. Major British artists include: the Romantics William Blake, John Constable, Samuel Palmer and J.M.W. Turner; the portrait painters Sir Joshua Reynolds and Lucian Freud; the landscape artists Thomas Gainsborough and L. S. Lowry; the pioneer of the Arts and Crafts Movement William Morris; the figurative painter Francis Bacon; the Pop artists Peter Blake, Richard Hamilton and David Hockney; the collaborative duo Gilbert and George; the abstract artist Howard Hodgkin; and the sculptors Antony Gormley, Anish Kapoor and Henry Moore. During the late 1980s and 1990s the Saatchi Gallery in London helped to bring to public attention a group of multi-genre artists who would become known as the "Young British Artists": Damien Hirst, Chris Ofili, Rachel Whiteread, Tracey Emin, Mark Wallinger, Steve McQueen, Sam Taylor-Wood and the Chapman Brothers are among the better-known members of this loosely affiliated movement.

The Royal Academy in London is a key organisation for the promotion of the visual arts in the United Kingdom. Major schools of art in the UK include: the six-school University of the Arts London, which includes the Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design and Chelsea College of Art and Design; Goldsmiths, University of London; the Slade School of Fine Art (part of University College London); the Glasgow School of Art; the Royal College of Art; and The Ruskin School of Drawing and Fine Art (part of the University of Oxford). The Courtauld Institute of Art is a leading centre for the teaching of the history of art. Important art galleries in the United Kingdom include the National Gallery, National Portrait Gallery, Tate Britain and Tate Modern (the most-visited modern art gallery in the world, with around 4.7 million visitors per year).[399]


Main article: Sport in the United Kingdom
File:Wembley Stadium, illuminated.jpg

Major sports, including association football, rugby league, rugby union, rowing, boxing, badminton, cricket, tennis, darts and golf, originated or were substantially developed in the United Kingdom and the states that preceded it. A 2003 poll found that football is the most popular sport in the United Kingdom.[401] In most international competitions, separate teams represent England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, including at the Commonwealth Games. (In sporting contexts, these teams can be referred to collectively as the Home Nations). However there are occasions where a single sports team represents the United Kingdom, including at the Olympics where the UK is represented by the Great Britain team. London was the site of the 1908 and 1948 Olympic Games, and in 2012 will become the first city to play host for a third time.

Each of the Home Nations has its own football association, national team and league system, though a few clubs play outside their country's respective systems for a variety of historical and logistical reasons. England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland compete as separate countries in international competition and, as a consequence, the UK does not compete as a team in football events at the Olympic Games.[402] There are proposals to have a UK team take part in the 2012 Summer Olympics but the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish football associations have declined to participate, fearing that it would undermine their independent status – a fear confirmed by FIFA president Sepp Blatter.[403] England has been the most successful of the home nations winning the World Cup on home soil in 1966, although there has historically been a close-fought rivalry between England and Scotland.


Cricket was invented in England. The England cricket team, controlled by the England and Wales Cricket Board,[404] is the only national team in the UK with Test status. Team members are drawn from the main county sides, and include both English and Welsh players. Cricket is distinct from football and rugby where Wales and England field separate national teams, although Wales had fielded its own team in the past. Irish and Scottish players have played for England because neither Scotland nor Ireland have Test status and have only recently started to play in One Day Internationals.[405][406] Scotland, England (and Wales), and Ireland (including Northern Ireland) have competed at the Cricket World Cup, with England reaching the finals on three occasions. There is a professional league championship in which clubs representing 17 English counties and 1 Welsh county compete.[407] Rugby league is a popular sport in some areas of the UK. It originates in Huddersfield and is generally played in Northern England.[408] A single 'Great Britain Lions' team had competed in the Rugby League World Cup and Test match games, but this changed in 2008 when England, Scotland and Ireland competed as separate nations.[409] Great Britain is still being retained as the full national team for Ashes tours against Australia, New Zealand and France. The highest form of professional rugby league in the UK and Europe is Super League where there are 11 teams from Northern England, 1 from London, 1 from Wales and 1 from France. Rugby union is organised on a separate basis for England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland, each has a top-ranked international team and were collectively known as the Home Nations. The Six Nations Championship, played between the Home Nations as well as Italy and France, is the premier international tournament in the northern hemisphere.[410] The Triple Crown is awarded to any of the Home Nations who beats the other three in that tournament.[411]

File:Centre Court roof.jpg

The game of lawn tennis first originated in the city of Birmingham between 1859 and 1865.[412] The Championships, Wimbledon are international tennis events held in Wimbledon in south London every summer and are regarded as the most prestigious event of the global tennis calendar. Snooker is one of the UK's popular sporting exports, with the world championships held annually in Sheffield.[413] In Northern Ireland Gaelic football and hurling are popular team sports, both in terms of participation and spectating, and Irish expatriates throughout the UK and the US also play them.[414] Shinty (or camanachd) is popular in the Scottish Highlands.[415]

Thoroughbred racing, which originated under Charles II of England as the "sport of kings", is popular throughout the UK with world-famous races including the Grand National, the Epsom Derby and Royal Ascot. The UK has proved successful in the international sporting arena in rowing. Golf is the sixth most popular sport, by participation, in the UK. Although The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews in Scotland is the sport's home course,[416] the world's oldest golf course is actually Musselburgh Links' Old Golf Course.[417]

The UK is closely associated with motorsport. Many teams and drivers in Formula One (F1) are based in the UK, and drivers from Britain have won more world titles than any other country. The UK hosted the very first F1 Grand Prix in 1950 at Silverstone, the current location of the British Grand Prix held each year in July. The country also hosts legs of the World Rally Championship and has its own touring car racing championship, the British Touring Car Championship (BTCC).[418]


Main article: Symbols of the United Kingdom, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man

The flag of the United Kingdom is the Union Flag (also referred to as the Union Jack). It was first created in 1606 by the superimposition of the Flag of England on the Flag of Scotland and updated in 1801 with the addition of Saint Patrick's Flag. Wales is not represented in the Union Flag as Wales had been conquered and annexed to England prior to the formation of the United Kingdom; the possibility of redesigning the Union Flag to include representation of Wales has not been completely ruled out.[419] The national anthem of the United Kingdom is "God Save the King", with "King" replaced with "Queen" in the lyrics whenever the monarch is a woman.

Britannia is a national personification of the United Kingdom, originating from Roman Britain.[420] Britannia is symbolised as a young woman with brown or golden hair wearing a Corinthian helmet and white robes. She holds Poseidon's three-pronged trident and a shield, bearing the Union Flag. Sometimes she is depicted as riding on the back of a lion. At and since the height of the British Empire, Britannia has often associated with maritime dominance, as in the patriotic song Rule, Britannia!. The lion symbol is depicted behind Britannia on the British fifty pence coin and one is shown crowned on the back of the British ten pence coin. It is also used as a symbol on the non-ceremonial flag of the British Army. The bulldog is sometimes used as a symbol of the United Kingdom and has been associated with Winston Churchill's defiance of Nazi Germany.[421]

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