|Languages||English , Scots , Welsh , Manx , English , Scots , Welsh , Manx|
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, commonly known as the United Kingdom (UK) or Britain, is a sovereign country in north-western Europe, off the north-western coast of the European mainland. The United Kingdom includes the island of Great Britain, the north-eastern part of the island of Ireland, and many smaller islands within the British Isles. Northern Ireland shares a land border with the Republic of Ireland. Otherwise, the United Kingdom is surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean, with the North Sea to the east, the English Channel to the south and the Celtic Sea to the south-west, giving it the 12th-longest coastline in the world. The Irish Sea separates Great Britain and Ireland. The total area of the United Kingdom is 93,628 square miles (242,500 km2), with an estimated population in 2020 of 68 million.
The United Kingdom is a unitary parliamentary democracy and constitutional monarchy. The monarch, Queen Elizabeth II, has reigned since 1952. The capital and largest city are London, a global city and financial center with a metropolitan area population of 14 million. The United Kingdom consists of four countries: England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. Other than England, the constituent countries have their devolved governments, each with varying powers.
The United Kingdom has evolved from a series of annexations, unions, and separations of constituent countries over several hundred years. The Treaty of Union between the Kingdom of England (which included Wales, annexed in 1542) and the Kingdom of Scotland in 1707 formed the Kingdom of Great Britain. Its union in 1801 with the Kingdom of Ireland created the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. Most of Ireland seceded from the UK in 1922, leaving the present United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, which formally adopted that name in 1927.
The nearby Isle of Man, Guernsey, and Jersey are not part of the UK, being Crown Dependencies with the British Government responsible for defense and international representation. There are also 14 British Overseas Territories, the last remnants of the British Empire, which, at its height in the 1920s, encompassed almost a quarter of the world's landmass and a third of the world's population, and was the largest empire in history. British influence can be observed in the language, culture, and legal and political systems of many of its former colonies.
The United Kingdom has the world's fifth-largest economy by nominal gross domestic product (GDP), and the tenth-largest by purchasing power parity (PPP). It has a high-income economy and a very high human development index rating, ranking 13th in the world. The UK became the world's first industrialized country and was the world's foremost power during the 19th and early 20th centuries. Today the UK remains one of the world's great powers, with considerable economic, cultural, military, scientific, technological, and political influence internationally. It is a recognized nuclear state and is ranked fourth globally in military expenditure. It has been a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council since its first session in 1946.
The United Kingdom is a member of the Commonwealth of Nations, the Council of Europe, the G7, the Group of Ten, the G20, the United Nations, NATO, AUKUS, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Interpol, and the World Trade Organization (WTO). It was a member state of the European Communities (EC) and its successor, the European Union (EU), from its accession in 1973 until its withdrawal in 2020 following a referendum held in 2016.
Settlement by anatomically modern humans of what was to become the United Kingdom occurred in waves beginning about 30,000 years ago. 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 Brittonic Britain and Gaelic Ireland.
Before the Roman conquest, Britain was home to about 30 indigenous tribes. The largest were the Belgae, the Brigantes, the Silures, and the Iceni. Historian Edward Gibbon believed that Spain, Gaul, and Britain were populated by "the same hardy race of savages", based on the similarity of their "manners and languages. The Roman conquest, beginning in 43 AD, and the 400-year rule of southern Britain, was followed by an invasion by Germanic Anglo-Saxon settlers, reducing the Brittonic area mainly to what was to become Wales, Cornwall and, until the latter stages of the Anglo-Saxon settlement, the Hen Ogledd (northern England and parts of southern Scotland). Most of the region settled by the Anglo-Saxons became unified as the Kingdom of England in the 10th century. Meanwhile, Gaelic-speakers in northwest Britain (with connections to the northeast of Ireland and traditionally supposed to have migrated from there in the 5th century)united with the Picts to create the Kingdom of Scotland in the 9th century.
In 1066, the Normans and their Breton allies invaded England from northern France. After conquering England, they seized large parts of Wales, conquered much of Ireland, and were invited to settle in Scotland, bringing to each country feudalism on the Northern French model and Norman-French culture. The Anglo-Norman ruling class greatly influenced, but eventually assimilated with, each of the local cultures. Subsequent medieval English kings completed the conquest of Wales and made unsuccessful attempts to annex Scotland. Asserting its independence in the 1320 Declaration of Arbroath, Scotland maintained its independence thereafter, 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, while the Kings of Scots were in an alliance with the French during this period. Early modern Britain saw religious conflict, resulting from the Reformation and the introduction of Protestant state churches in each country. Wales was fully incorporated into the Kingdom of England, and Ireland was constituted as a kingdom in personal union with the English crown. In what was to become Northern Ireland, the lands of the independent Catholic Gaelic nobility were confiscated and given to Protestant settlers from England and Scotland.
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, legal, and religious institutions.
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, with the execution of King Charles I, and the establishment of the short-lived unitary republic of the Commonwealth of England, Scotland and Ireland. During the 17th and 18th centuries, British sailors were involved in acts of piracy (privateering), attacking and stealing from ships off the coast of Europe and the Caribbean.
Although the monarchy was restored, the Interregnum (along with the Glorious Revolution of 1688 and the subsequent Bill of Rights 1689, and the Claim of Right Act 1689) ensured that, unlike much of the rest of Europe, royal absolutism would not prevail, and a professed Catholic could never accede to the throne. The British constitution would develop based on constitutional monarchy and the parliamentary system. With the founding of the Royal Society in 1660, science was greatly encouraged. 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 and the Caribbean.
Though previous attempts at uniting the two kingdoms within Great Britain in 1606, 1667, and 1689 had proved unsuccessful, the attempt initiated in 1705 led to the Treaty of Union of 1706 being agreed and ratified by both parliaments.
The total area of the United Kingdom is approximately 244,820 square Kilometres (94,530 sq mi). The country occupies the major part of the British Isles 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 southeast coast coming within 22 miles (35 km) of the coast of northern France, from which it is separated by the English Channel. In 1993 10 percent of the UK was forested, 46 percent used for pastures and 25 percent cultivated for agriculture. The Royal Greenwich Observatory in London was chosen as the defining point of the Prime Meridian in Washington, DC, in 1884, although due to more accurate modern measurement the meridian lies 100 meters to the east of the observatory.
The United Kingdom lies between latitudes 49° and 61° N, and longitudes 9° W and 2° E. Northern Ireland shares a 224-mile (360 km) land boundary with the Republic of Ireland. The coastline of Great Britain is 11,073 miles (17,820 km) long. It is connected to continental Europe by the Channel Tunnel, which at 31 miles (50 km) (24 miles (38 km) underwater) is the longest underwater tunnel in the world.
England accounts for just over half (53 percent) of the total area of the UK, covering 130,395 square Kilometres (50,350 sq mi). Most of the country consists of lowland terrain, with more upland and some mountainous terrain northwest of the Tees-Exe line; including the Lake District, the Pennines, Exmoor, and Dartmoor. The main rivers and estuaries are the Thames, Severn and the Humber. England's highest mountain is Scafell Pike (978 meters (3,209 ft)) in the Lake District.
Scotland accounts for just under one-third (32 percent) of the total area of the UK, covering 78,772 square kilometers (30,410 sq mi). This includes nearly 800 islands, predominantly west and north of the mainland; notably the Hebrides, Orkney Islands, and the Shetland Islands. Scotland is the most mountainous country in the UK and its topography is distinguished by the Highland Boundary Fault – a geological rock fracture – which traverses Scotland from Arran in the west to Stonehaven in the east. The fault 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 1,345 meters (4,413 ft) is the highest point in the British Isles. Lowland areas – especially the narrow waist of land between the Firth of Clyde and the Firth of Forth known as the Central Belt – are flatter and home to most of the population including Glasgow, Scotland's largest city, and Edinburgh, it's capital and political center, although upland and mountainous terrain lie within the Southern Uplands.
Wales accounts for less than one-tenth (9 percent) of the total area of the UK, covering 20,779 square kilometers (8,020 sq mi). Wales is mostly mountainous, though South Wales is less mountainous than North and mid-Wales. The main population and industrial areas are in South Wales, consisting of the coastal cities of Cardiff, Swansea, and Newport, and the South Wales Valleys to their north. The highest mountains in Wales are in Snowdonia and include Snowdon (Welsh: Yr Wyddfa) which, at 1,085 meters (3,560 ft), is the highest peak in Wales. Wales has over 2,704 kilometers (1,680 miles) of coastline. Several islands lie off the Welsh mainland, the largest of which is Anglesey (Ynys Môn) in the northwest.
Northern Ireland, separated from Great Britain by the Irish Sea and North Channel, has an area of 14,160 square Kilometres (5,470 sq mi) and is mostly hilly. It includes Lough Neagh which, at 388 square kilometers (150 sq mi), is the largest lake in the British Isles by area. The highest peak in Northern Ireland is Slieve Donard in the Mourne Mountains at 852 meters (2,795 ft).
The UK contains four terrestrial ecoregions: Celtic broadleaf forests, English Lowlands beech forests, North Atlantic moist mixed forests, and Caledon conifer forests. The country had a 2019 Forest Landscape Integrity Index mean score of 1.65/10, ranking it 161th globally out of 172 countries.
Government and politics
The United Kingdom is a unitary state under a constitutional monarchy. Queen Elizabeth II is the monarch and head of state of the UK, as well as 14 other independent countries. These 15 countries are sometimes referred to as "Commonwealth realms". The monarch has "the right to be consulted, the right to encourage and the right to warn" The Constitution of the United Kingdom is uncodified and consists mostly of a collection of disparate written sources, including statutes, judge-made case law, and international treaties, together with constitutional conventions. 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. No Parliament can pass laws that future Parliaments cannot change.
The UK is a parliamentary democracy and a constitutional monarchy. The Parliament of the United Kingdom is sovereign. It is made up of the House of Commons, the House of Lords, and the Crown. The main business of Parliament takes place in the two houses, but royal assent is required for a bill to become an Act of Parliament (law).
For general elections (elections to the House of Commons), the UK is divided into 650 constituencies, each of which is represented by a member of Parliament (MP). MPs hold office for up to five years and are always up for reelection in general elections. The Conservative Party, Labour Party, and Scottish National Party are, respectively, the current first, second, and third-largest parties (by number of MPs) in the House of Commons.
The prime minister is the head of government in the United Kingdom. Nearly all prime ministers have served as First Lord of the Treasury and all prime ministers have continuously served as First Lord of the Treasury since 1905, Minister for the Civil Service since 1968, and Minister for the Union since 2019. In modern times, the prime minister is, by constitutional convention, an MP. The prime minister is appointed by the monarch and their appointment is governed by constitutional conventions. However, they are normally the leader of the political party with the most seats in the House of Commons and hold office by their ability to command the confidence of the House of Commons.
The prime minister not only has statutory functions (alongside other ministers) but is the monarch's principal adviser and it is for them to advise the monarch on the exercise of the royal prerogative about government. In particular, the prime minister recommends the appointment of ministers and chairs the Cabinet.
The UK has a partially regulated market economy. Based on market exchange rates, the UK is today the fifth-largest economy in the world and the second-largest in Europe after Germany. HM Treasury, led by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, is responsible for developing and executing the government's public finance policy and economic policy. The Bank of England is the UK's central bank and is responsible for issuing notes and coins in the nation's currency, the pound sterling. Banks in Scotland and Northern Ireland retain the right to issue their notes, subject to retaining enough Bank of England notes in reserve to cover their issue. The pound sterling is the world's fourth-largest reserve currency (after the US dollar, euro, and Japanese Yen). Since 1997 the Bank of England's Monetary Policy Committee, headed by the Governor of the Bank of England, has been responsible for setting interest rates at the level necessary to achieve the overall inflation target for the economy that is set by the Chancellor each year.
The UK service sector makes up around 79 percent of GDP. London is one of the world's largest financial centers, ranking 2nd in the world, behind New York City, in the Global Financial Centers Index in 2020. London also has the largest city GDP in Europe. Edinburgh ranks 17th in the world and 6th in Western Europe in the Global Financial Centres Index in 2020. Tourism is very important to the British economy; with over 27 million tourists arriving in 2004, the United Kingdom is ranked as the sixth major tourist destination in the world and London has the most international visitors of any city in the world. The creative industries accounted for 7 percent GVA in 2005 and grew at an average of 6 percent per annum between 1997 and 2005.
Following the United Kingdom's withdrawal from the European Union, the functioning of the UK internal economic market is enshrined by the United Kingdom Internal Market Act 2020 which ensures trade in goods and services continues without internal barriers across the four countries of the United Kingdom.
The Industrial Revolution started in the UK with an initial concentration on the textile industry, followed by other heavy industries such as shipbuilding, coal mining, and steel making. British merchants, shippers, and bankers developed an overwhelming advantage over those of other nations allowing the UK to dominate international trade in the 19th century. As other nations industrialized, coupled with economic decline after two world wars, the United Kingdom began to lose its competitive advantage and heavy industry declined, by degrees, throughout the 20th century. Manufacturing remains a significant part of the economy but accounted for only 16.7 percent of national output in 2003.
The automotive industry employs around 800,000 people, with a turnover in 2015 of £70 billion, generating £34.6 billion of exports (11.8 percent of the UK's total export goods). In 2015, the UK produced around 1.6 million passenger vehicles and 94,500 commercial vehicles. The UK is a major center for engine manufacturing: in 2015 around 2.4 million engines were produced. The UK motorsport industry employs around 41,000 people, comprises around 4,500 companies, and has an annual turnover of around £6 billion.
The aerospace industry of the UK is the second- or third-largest national aerospace industry in the world, depending upon the method of measurement, and has an annual turnover of around £30 billion.
BAE Systems plays a critical role in some of the world's biggest defence aerospace projects. In the UK, the company makes large sections of the Typhoon Eurofighter and assembles the aircraft for the Royal Air Force. It is also a principal subcontractor on the F35 Joint Strike Fighter – the world's largest single defense project – for which it designs and manufactures a range of components. It also manufactures the Hawk, the world's most successful jet training aircraft. Airbus UK also manufactures the wings for the A400 m military transporter. Rolls-Royce is the world's second-largest aero-engine manufacturer. Its engines power more than 30 types of commercial aircraft and it has more than 30,000 engines in service in the civil and defense sectors.
The UK space industry was worth £9.1bn in 2011 and employed 29,000 people. It is growing at a rate of 7.5 percent annually, according to its umbrella organization, the UK Space Agency. In 2013, the British Government pledged £60 m to the Skylon project: this investment will provide support at a "crucial stage" to allow a full-scale prototype of the SABRE engine to be built.
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.
Agriculture is intensive, highly motorized, and efficient by European standards, producing about 60 percent of food needs with less than 1.6 percent of the labor force (535,000 workers). Around two-thirds of production is devoted to livestock, one-third to arable crops. The UK retains a significant, though much-reduced fishing industry. It is also rich in several natural resources including coal, petroleum, natural gas, tin, limestone, iron ore, salt, clay, chalk, gypsum, lead, silica, and an abundance of arable land.
In 2020, coronavirus lockdown measures caused the UK economy to suffer its biggest slump on record, shrinking by 20.4 percent between April and June compared to the first three months of the year, to push it officially into recession for the first time in 11 years.
The UK has an external debt of 9.6 trillion dollars, which is the second-highest in the world after the US. As a percentage of GDP, external debt is 408 percent, which is the third-highest in the world after Luxembourg and Iceland.
A census is taken simultaneously in all parts of the UK every 10 years. In the 2011 census, the total population of the United Kingdom was 63,181,775. It is the fourth-largest in Europe (after Russia, Germany, and France), the fifth-largest in the Commonwealth, and the 22nd-largest in the world. In mid-2014 and mid-2015 net long-term international migration contributed more to population growth. In mid-2012 and mid-2013 natural change contributed the most to population growth. Between 2001 and 2011 the population increased by an average annual rate of approximately 0.7 percent. This compares to 0.3 percent per year in the period 1991 to 2001 and 0.2 percent in the decade 1981 to 1991. The 2011 census also showed that, over the previous 100 years, the proportion of the population aged 0–14 fell from 31 percent to 18 percent, and the proportion of people aged 65 and over rose from 5 to 16 percent. In 2018 the median age of the UK population was 41.7 years.
England's population in 2011 was 53 million, representing some 84 percent of the UK total. It is one of the most densely populated countries in the world, with 420 people resident per square kilometer in mid-2015, with a particular concentration in London and the south east. The 2011 census put Scotland's population at 5.3 million, Wales at 3.06 million, and Northern Ireland at 1.81 million.
In 2017 the average total fertility rate (TFR) across the UK was 1.74 children born per woman. While a rising birth rate is contributing to population growth, it remains considerably below the baby boom peak of 2.95 children per woman in 1964, or the high of 6.02 children born per woman in 1815, below the replacement rate of 2.1, but higher than the 2001 record low of 1.63. In 2011, 47.3 percent of births in the UK were to unmarried women. The Office for National Statistics published a bulletin in 2015 showing that out of the UK population aged 16 and over, 1.7 percent identify as gay, lesbian, or bisexual (2.0 percent of males and 1.5 percent of females); 4.5 percent of respondents responded with "other", "I don't know", or did not respond. The number of transgender people in the UK was estimated to be between 65,000 and 300,000 by research between 2001 and 2008. A 2021 report from the Council of Europe criticized "the extensive and often virulent attacks on the rights of LGBTI people for several years" in the United Kingdom along with Hungary, Poland, Russia, and Turkey.
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, Ireland, New Zealand, Pakistan, South Africa, and the United States; a common culture coined today as the Anglosphere. The substantial cultural influence of the United Kingdom has led it to be described as a "cultural superpower". A global opinion poll for the BBC saw the United Kingdom ranked the third most positively viewed nation in the world (behind Germany and Canada) in 2013 and 2014.
Big Ben in London
Stonehenge in Salisbury
Tower Bridge in London