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United Kingdom
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United Kingdom

The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is a state in western Europe, usually known simply as the United Kingdom, the UK or less accurately as Great Britain or Britain. The UK was formed by a series of Acts of Union which united the formerly self-governing nations of England, Scotland and Wales together with the province of Northern Ireland, a region on the island of Ireland (the rest of Ireland left the United Kingdom in 1922).

The UK is situated just off the north-western coast of continental Europe, surrounded by the North Sea, the English Channel and the Atlantic Ocean. Also under the sovereignty of the United Kingdom, though not part of the United Kingdom itself, are the Crown Dependencies of the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man and a number of Overseas Territories.

Great Britain, now sometimes called simply Britain, is the geographical name for the mainland states of England, Wales and Scotland, sometimes including their islands. The British Isles is a geographical name of an archipelago of islands including Great Britain, Ireland, the Isle of Man, Isle of Wight, Orkney, the Hebrides, Shetland Isles, Channel Islands and others.

United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland*
(In Detail) (Full size)
Royal motto: Dieu et mon droit
(French: God and my right)
Official language None, English is de facto 1
Capital London
Capital's coordinates 51° 30' N, 0° 10' W
Largest City London
Queen Elizabeth II
Prime Minister Tony Blair
Political system Constitutional monarchy
 - Total
 - % water
Ranked 76th
244,101 km²
 - Total (2003)
 - Density
Ranked 21st
Establishment Act of Union 1800 2
 - Total (Year)
 - GDP/head
Ranked 4th
$1.52 trillion
Currency Pound Sterling (£)
Time zone UTC, Summer: +1 UTC
National anthem God Save the Queen 3
Internet TLD .uk 4
Calling Code 44
International call prefix 00
(1) Officially recognised regional languages: Welsh, Scottish Gaelic, Irish Gaelic, Cornish, Scots and Ulster Scots
(2) Formed as United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. Name changed to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland in 1927.
(3) unofficial
(4) ISO 3166-1 is GB

Table of contents
1 History
2 Politics
3 Subdivisions
4 Geography
5 Economy
6 Demographics
7 Culture
8 Miscellaneous topics
9 Translated names
10 External links


Main article: History of the United Kingdom

Scotland and England have existed as separate unified entities since the 10th century. Wales, under English control since the Statute of Rhuddlan in 1284, became part of the Kingdom of England by the Act of Union 1536. With the Act of Union 1707 the separate kingdoms of England and Scotland, having shared the same monarch since 1603, agreed to permanent union as the Kingdom of Great Britain. The Act of Union 1800 united the Kingdom of Great Britain with the Kingdom of Ireland, which had been gradually brought under English control between 1169 and 1603, to form the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. In 1922, 26 of the counties of Ireland were formed into the Irish Free State (the other six Ulster counties remaining part of the United Kingdom as Northern Ireland) and the state became the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, the name being officially changed in 1927.

The United Kingdom, the dominant industrial and maritime power of the 19th century, played a leading role in developing parliamentary democracy and in advancing literature and science. At its zenith, the British Empire stretched over one quarter of the earth's surface. The first half of the 20th century saw the UK's strength seriously depleted in two World Wars. The second half witnessed the dismantling of the Empire and the UK rebuilding itself into a modern and prosperous European nation. The UK is currently weighing the degree of its integration with continental Europe. A member of the EU, it has chosen to defer its participation in Euro Zone owing to internal political considerations. Constitutional reform is also a current issue in the UK. The House of Lords has been subjected to ongoing reforms and National assemblies with varying degrees of power were created in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland in 1999. Further assemblies for the English regions are also under consideration. According to opinion polls, the monarchy remains generally popular in spite of recent controversies. Support for a British Republic usually fluctuates between 15% and 25% of the population.

The United Kingdom is a member of the Commonwealth of Nations (successor organisation to the former Empire), the European Union and NATO. It is also a permanent member of the UN Security Council and holds a veto power.

See also: Monarchs; History of Britain; History of England; History of Ireland; History of Scotland; History of Wales, UK local history terms


Main article: Politics of the United Kingdom

In form, the United Kingdom is a constitutional monarchy with legislative power invested in an elected government, and executive power invested in a Cabinet led by the Prime Minister whose power, though carried out in the monarch's name, is answerable to Parliament and through it the electorate. It is governed from its capital, London (although see below). The UK's current monarch and head of state is Queen Elizabeth II who acceded to the throne in 1952 and was crowned in 1953. In modern Britain, the monarch's rôle is mainly ceremonial, with the UK's real political power being delegated to the Prime Minister by Parliament.

The United Kingdom is a very centralised state, with London's Westminster Parliament holding responsibility for most of the UK's political power. In 1999, the Scottish Parliament and a National Assembly for Wales were set up, the former having primary legislative power. Northern Ireland was also granted a self-governing Northern Ireland Assembly as part of the Good Friday Agreement, but it is currently suspended.

See also:


Main article:
Subdivisions of the United Kingdom

The United Kingdom is made up of the four nations England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, which are in turn made up of the following subdivisions:

The Act of Union 1536 incorporated Wales and England into England and Wales for legal purposes.

England is divided into nine Government Office Regions - North East, North West, Yorkshire and the Humber, East Midlands, West Midlands, Eastern, Greater London, South East, South West. Each region is made up of counties and unitary authorities, apart from London which consists of London boroughs. There is growing support for the regions to be empowered via democratically elected assemblies - particularly in the northern regions and the West Midlands.

Scotland consists of 32 Council Areas. Wales consists of 22 Unitary Authorities, styled as 10 County Boroughs, 9 Counties, and 3 Cities. Northern Ireland is divided into 26 Districts.

There are also a number of different dependencies belonging to the United Kingdom, see Crown colony.

The Isle of Man and Channel Islands are not legally part of the United Kingdom; they are British crown dependencies, though the United Kingdom is responsible for their external affairs.

The monarchy of the United Kingdom is symbolically shared with 15 other sovereign countries that are known as Commonwealth Realms, although Britain has no political or executive power over these independent nations, it retains influence, through long-standing close relations.

See also: City status in the United Kingdom, Towns of the United Kingdom, Local government in the United Kingdom


Main article: Geography of the United Kingdom

Most of England consists of rolling lowland terrain, divided east from west by more mountainous terrain in the north of the Cumbrian Mountains and the Tees-Exe line; through the Highland moors of the Pennines; the limestone hills of the Peak District into the Cotswolds and Chiltons off southern England. The main rivers and estuaries are the Thames and the Severn, the Trent & Ouse feeding the Humber Estuary; major cities include London, Birmingham, Manchester, Sheffield, Liverpool, Leeds, Kingston upon Hull, Bristol and Newcastle upon Tyne. Near Dover, the Channel Tunnel links the United Kingdom with France.

Wales is mostly mountainous, the highest peak being Snowdon, at 1,085 m above sea level. North of the mainland is the island of Anglesey. Main and capital city is Cardiff, located in the south of Wales.

Scotland's geography is varied, with lowlands in the south and east and highlands in the north and west, including Ben Nevis, the UK's highest mountain (1343 m). There are many long and deep sea arms, firths, and lochs. A multitude of islands west and north of Scotland are also included, notably the Hebrides, Orkney Islands and Shetland Islands. Main cities are Edinburgh, Glasgow and Aberdeen.

Northern Ireland, making up the northeastern part of Ireland, is mostly hilly. Main cities are Belfast and Derry.

In total it is estimated that the UK is made up of around 1098 small islands, with some being natural and some being man made Cranoggs, that were built in past times using stone and wood which were enlarged by natural waste building up over time.


Main article: Economy of the United Kingdom

The United Kingdom, a leading trading power and financial centre, has an essentially capitalist economy, one of the largest of Western Europe. Over the past two decades the government has greatly reduced public ownership by means of privatisation programmes, and has contained the growth of the Welfare State. Agriculture is intensive, highly mechanised, and efficient by European standards, producing about 60% of food needs with only 1% of the labour force. The UK has large coal, natural gas, and oil reserves; primary energy production accounts for 10% of GDP, one of the highest shares of any industrial nation. Services, particularly banking, insurance, and business services, account for by far the largest proportion of GDP while industry continues to decline in importance.

The Blair government has put off the question of participation in the Euro system, citing five economic tests that would need to be met before a referendum can take place.


Main article: Demographics of the United Kingdom

The primary language spoken is English. Other indigenous languages include Welsh, Scottish Gaelic, Cornish, Irish Gaelic and various dialects of Scots. Recent immigrants from elsewhere in the Commonwealth speak other languages, including Gujerati, Hindi and Urdu.


Main article: Culture of the United Kingdom

The United Kingdom contains two of the world's most famous universities, the University of Cambridge and the University of Oxford, and has produced many great scientists and engineers including Isaac Newton, James Watt, Charles Darwin, and Isambard Kingdom Brunel. A great number of world-changing inventions or discoveries were made by British people, including: Michael Faraday, Frank Whittle, Charles Babbage, Robert Baden-Powell, Alexander Fleming, John Logie Baird, William Caxton, Richard Trevithick, Humphry Davy, Robert Watson-Watt, Henry Bessemer, Tim Berners-Lee and others.

A great number of the world's major sports originated in the United Kingdom, including: football, golf, boxing, rugby, cricket, snooker, billiards, badminton and curling.

Playwright William Shakespeare is arguably the most famous writer in the world; other well-known writers include the Brontë sisters (Charlotte, Emily and Anne), Agatha Christie, Charles Dickens, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Geoffrey Chaucer, Dr. Samuel Johnson, George Orwell and J. R. R. Tolkien. Important poets include Robert Burns, Thomas Hardy, John Milton, Alfred Tennyson, Rudyard Kipling, Dylan Thomas and William Wordsworth.

Composers William Byrd, Thomas Tallis, John Taverner, John Blow, Henry Purcell, Edward Elgar, Arthur Sullivan, William Walton, Ralph Vaughan Williams, Benjamin Britten and Michael Tippett have made major contributions to British music, and are known internationally. Living composers include John Tavener, Harrison Birtwistle, Andrew Lloyd Webber, and Oliver Knussen.

Britain also supports a number of major orchestras including the BBC Symphony Orchestra, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, the Philharmonia, the London Symphony Orchestra and the London Philharmonic Orchestra. Because of its location and other economic factors, London is one of the most important cities for music in the world: it has several important concert halls and is also home to the Royal Opera House, one of the world's leading opera houses. British traditional music has also been very influential abroad.

The UK was, with the US, one of the two main countries in the development of rock and roll, and has provided bands including The Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, The Who, Pink Floyd, Queen, Status Quo, the Sex Pistols, the Manic Street Preachers, Oasis, and Radiohead. Since then it has also pioneered in various forms of electronic dance music including acid house, drum and bass and trip hop, all of which were in whole or part developed in the United Kingdom. Acclaimed British dance acts include Underworld, Massive Attack, The Chemical Brothers and Portishead. (see main article: Music of the United Kingdom).

Notable visual artists from the United Kingdom include John Constable, Sir Joshua Reynolds, Thomas Gainsborough, William Blake and J.M.W. Turner. In the 20th century, Francis Bacon, David Hockney, Bridget Riley, and the pop artists Richard Hamilton and Peter Blake were of note. More recently still, the so-called Young British Artists have gained some notoriety, particularly Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin.

The United Kingdom also has a vibrant tradition of theatre. The West End of London has a large number of theatres. The West End theatres and other theatres in London, including the National Theatre are collectively known as known as theatreland.

Public Holidays (known as Bank Holidays)
Date Name
1 January New Year's Day, Hogmanay (Scotland only)
2 January Hogmanay (Scotland only)
17 March St Patrick's Day (Northern Ireland only)
The Friday before Easter Sunday Good Friday
The day after Easter Sunday Easter Monday (not Scotland)
First Monday in May May Day
Last Monday in May Spring Bank Holiday
12 July Battle of the Boyne - Orangemen's Day (Northern Ireland only)
First Monday in August Summer Bank Holiday (Scotland only)
Last Monday in August Summer Bank Holiday (not Scotland)
30 November St Andrew's Day (Scotland only)
25 December Christmas Day
26 December or 27 December* Boxing Day
31 December Hogmanay (Scotland only)

* Strictly, Boxing Day is the first weekday after Christmas, so it cannot fall on a Sunday. If Christmas Day is a Saturday, then Boxing Day is the following Monday, although in practice, this nicety is often ignored since both the Monday and the Tuesday will be public holidays in addition to the normal weekend.

Miscellaneous topics

Main article: list of United Kingdom-related topics

Translated names

In the UK
some other languagess have been officially recognised as legitimate autochthonous (regional) languages under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. These languages are Welsh, Scottish Gaelic, Irish Gaelic, Cornish, Scots and Ulster Scots. In each of these the UK's official name is as follows:

External links

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