UNITED KINGDOM OVERVIEW
The United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland is more commonly known as the United Kingdom or Britain. The UK includes the Island of Great Britain, Northern Ireland and many small islands. It is situated off the North Eastern coast of continental Europe. The total land area of the UK is approximately 94,600 square miles. It is 700 miles in length and 300 miles at it’s widest. Northern Ireland shares a 224 mile land boundary with Ireland. It is situated between the North Atlantic Ocean and the North Sea. The UK is 22 miles from the North East coast of France and separated from France by the English Channel, however it is also linked to France by the Channel Tunnel. The capital of the UK is London.
The UK is the union of four constituent countries: England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. England accounts for just over half of the total land area of the UK covering 50,350 square miles. Scotland accounts for approximately a third of the total area of the UK covering 30,410 square miles. Wales makes up less than a 10th of the total area of the UK covering 8,010 square miles. Northern Ireland makes up 5,470 square miles.
The UK also has 14 overseas territories, which are under its sovereignty but not part of the UK itself.
The United Kingdom of Great Britain was created on the 1st of May 1707 by the political union of the Kingdom of England, including the Principality of Wales, and the Kingdom of Scotland by each passing an Act of Union in 1707. The Kingdom of Ireland joined the United Kingdom of Great Britain by passing the Act of Union in 1800.
The United Kingdom is a sovereign island country. It is governed by a parliamentary system, with its seat of government in London. It is a constitutional monarchy with Queen Elizabeth the II as the head of state. The Queen is subsequently also the head of state of 15 other Commonwealth countries.
The UK is one of the 3 countries in the world that does not have a codified constitution. The Prime Minister is the UK’s head of government. The Prime Minister and the cabinet are formally appointed by the Monarch, however the Prime Minister selects the cabinet and advises the Queen accordingly. The cabinet is selected from members of the Prime Minister’s party in both legislative houses.
Parliament meets in the Palace of Westminster, which is the ultimate legislative authority in the UK. There is a devolved parliament in Scotland and devolved assemblies in Northern Ireland and Wales. The UK parliament is made up of 2 houses, the House of Commons, which is elected and the House of Lords, which is appointed. Any Bill passed requires the assent of the Queen before becoming law. The UK is made up of 646 constituencies. Each constituency elects one member to become a member of parliament. Elections are called by the Monarch upon the advise of the Prime Minister. Elections are held at least every 5 years.
The British Empire was the largest empire in history. British influences are therefore still apparent in the language, culture and legal systems of many of its former colonies like Canada and Australia, India and the US. After World War II, the UK was left economically damaged. Many people from former colonies were therefore encouraged to come to UK to help restore the country economically. This contributed to a multiethnic Britain.
The total population is approximately 58,789,194. This is the third largest in the EU after Germany and France. The UK is one of the most densely populated countries in the world. The population is descended from pre-Celtic, Celtic, Roman, Anglo Saxon and Norman people. There is also significant immigration from former colonies of the British Empire from Africa, the Caribbean and South Asia as well as from European Union countries, since citizens of the EU are free to live and work in the UK. Ninety-two percent of the population is white.
The UK does not have an official language however the predominant language is English. Immigrant languages are spoken by 10% of the population. French is spoken by 2.3%, Polish is spoken by 1%, German is spoken by 0.9% and Spanish is spoken by 0.8%.
London is the world’s largest financial centre. The British service sector makes up approximately 73% of the UK’s Growth Domestic Product. The service sector is dominated by financial services, particularly banking and insurance. London hosts the largest concentration of foreign bank branches in the world. It is also a major centre for international business and commerce.
Tourism is also very important to the economy. The UK is ranked the 6th major tourist destination in the world. Manufacturing has diminished since the end of World War II. The currency is the Pound Sterling. The UK chose not to adopt the Euro when the currency was launched until a referendum was held.
The UK is a developed country. Even though it is not as powerful as it used to be in the 19th and 20th century, it still retains very strong economic, cultural, military and political influence over the rest of the world. It is a nuclear power. It has one of the highest defence spending in the world. It is one of the founding members of the European Union. It holds a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council and it is a member of G8, NATO, WTO and the Commonwealth of Nations.