United Kingdom

2007 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: Countries; European Countries; Geography of Great Britain

United Kingdom of Great Britain
and Northern Ireland1
Flag of the United Kingdom Coat of arms of the United Kingdom
Flag Coat of arms
Motto: Dieu et mon droit  (the Royal motto3)
(French for "God and my right")
Anthem: " God Save the Queen" 4
Location of the United Kingdom
Capital London
51°30′N 0°7′W
Most populous conurbation Greater London Urban Area
Official languages English ( de facto5)
Government Constitutional monarchy
 - Queen Queen Elizabeth II
 - Prime Minister Tony Blair
 - Union of the Crowns 24 March 1603 
 - Acts of Union 1 May 1707 
 - Act of Union 1 January 1801 
 - Anglo-Irish Treaty 12 April 1922 
Accession to EU 1 January 1973
 - Total 244,820 km² ( 79th)
94,526 sq mi 
 - Water (%) 1.34
 - 2005 estimate 60,209,5006 ( 21st)
 - 2001 census 58,789,194
 - Density 243/km² ( 48th)
629/sq mi
GDP ( PPP) 2005 estimate
 - Total $1.833 trillion ( 6th)
 - Per capita $30,436 ( 18th)
GDP (nominal) 2005 estimate
 - Total $2.201 trillion ( 5th)
 - Per capita $37,023 ( 13th)
HDI  (2004) 0.940 (high) ( 18th)
Currency Pound sterling (£) ( GBP)
Time zone GMT ( UTC+0)
 - Summer ( DST) BST ( UTC+1)
Internet TLD .uk7
Calling code +44
1 In the UK, some other languages have been officially recognised as legitimate autochthonous (regional) languages under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. In each of these, the UK's official name is as follows:
Welsh: Teyrnas Unedig Prydain Fawr a Gogledd Iwerddon
Scottish Gaelic: An Rìoghachd Aonaichte na Breatainn Mhòr agus Eirinn a Tuath
Irish: Ríocht Aontaithe na Breataine Móire agus Thuaisceart Éireann
Scots: Unitit Kinrick o Great Breetain an Northren Ireland
Cornish: An Rywvaneth Unys a Vreten Veur hag Iwerdhon Glédh
2 There is also a variant for use in Scotland; see Royal coat of arms of the United Kingdom.
3 The Royal motto used in Scotland is Nemo Me Impune Lacessit (Latin: "No-one provokes me with impunity").
4 See #Symbols below. It also serves as the Royal anthem.
5 In addition to English (use established by precedent), Welsh is recognised in Wales as a "language of equal standing". Since 2005, Scottish Gaelic in Scotland has the status of "an official language of Scotland commanding equal respect to the English language" . See also Languages in the United Kingdom.
6 Official estimate provided by the UK Office for National Statistics .
7 ISO 3166-1 alpha-2 is GB, but .gb is unused. The .eu domain is also shared with other European Union member states.

The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (usually shortened to the United Kingdom, the UK, or Britain) is a country and sovereign state that is situated in north west Europe. Its territory and population are primarily situated on the island of Great Britain and in Northern Ireland on the island of Ireland, as well as numerous smaller islands in the surrounding seas. The United Kingdom is bounded by the Atlantic Ocean, and its ancillary bodies of water, including the North Sea, the English Channel, the Celtic Sea, and the Irish Sea. The mainland is linked to France by the Channel Tunnel and Northern Ireland shares a land border with the Republic of Ireland, while both countries are part of the Common Travel Area.

The United Kingdom is a political union made up of four constituent countries: England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The United Kingdom also has several overseas territories, including Bermuda, Gibraltar, Montserrat and Saint Helena among others. The dependencies of the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man, formally possessions of the Crown, form a federacy with the United Kingdom collectively known as the British Islands. A constitutional monarchy, the United Kingdom is a Commonwealth Realm, sharing the same person — Queen Elizabeth II — with the fifteen other Realms as monarch and head of state, forming a personal union with each.

A member of the G8, the United Kingdom is a highly developed country with the fifth largest economy in the world and second largest in Europe, estimated at US$2.2 trillion. It is the third most populous state in the European Union with a population of 60.2 million and is a founding member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) and the United Nations (UN), where it holds a permanent seat on the Security Council. The UK is also one of the world's major nuclear powers.

After the end of the British Empire, the UK retains influence throughout the world because of the extensive use of the English language as well as through the world-spanning Commonwealth of Nations, headed by Queen Elizabeth II.


Great Britain and Northern Ireland is the latest of several unions formed over the last 300 years. The Kingdom of Scotland and the Kingdom of England had existed as separate states with their own monarchs and political structures since the 9th century. The once independent Principality of Wales fell under the control of English monarchs from the Statute of Rhuddlan in 1284, becoming itself part of the Kingdom of England by the Laws in Wales Act 1535. With the Act of Union 1707, the independent states of England and Scotland, having been in personal union since 1603, agreed to a political 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 1541 and 1691, to form the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. Independence for the now Republic of Ireland in 1922 followed the partition of the island of Ireland two years previously, with six of the nine counties of the province of Ulster remaining within the UK, which then changed to the current name in 1927.

The dominant industrial and maritime power of the 19th century, the United Kingdom is often credited with being the nation that "created the modern world", by playing a leading role in developing Western ideas of property, capitalism, and parliamentary democracy as well as making significant contributions to literature, the arts, and science and technology. At its zenith, the British Empire stretched over one-quarter of the Earth's surface and encompassed a third of its population, making it the largest empire in history. The first half of the 20th century, however, saw the Empire's strength seriously depleted from the effects of World War I and World War II. The second half witnessed the dismantling of the Empire and the United Kingdom rebuilding itself into the modern, prosperous, and technologically advanced nation it is today.

The British Empire in 1897.
The British Empire in 1897.

The United Kingdom has been a member of the European Union since 1973. The attitude of the present government towards further integration with this organisation is mixed , with the Conservative Party favouring a return of some powers and competencies to the state . Plans are to hold a referendum on the issue if and when five economic tests indicate that entry into the Eurozone would be beneficial.

Government and politics

The United Kingdom is a constitutional monarchy, with executive power exercised on behalf of the monarch by the prime minister and other cabinet ministers who head departments. The cabinet, including the prime minister, and other ministers collectively make up Her Majesty's Government. These ministers are drawn from and are responsible to Parliament, the legislative body, which is traditionally considered to be "supreme" (that is, able to legislate on any matter and not bound by decisions of its predecessors). The United Kingdom is one of the few countries in the world today that does not have a codified constitution, relying instead on traditional customs and separate pieces of constitutional law.

While the monarch is head of state and technically holds all executive power, it is the prime minister who is the head of government. The government is answerable chiefly to the House of Commons, from which constitutional convention requires that the prime minister be drawn. The majority of cabinet members are from the House of Commons, the rest from the House of Lords. Ministers do not, however, legally have to come from Parliament, though that is the modern day custom. The British system of government has been emulated around the world — a legacy of the British Empire's colonial past — most notably in the other Commonwealth Realms. The Member of Parliament (MP) who commands a majority in the House of Commons is normally appointed prime minister - usually the leader of the largest party or, if there is no majority party, the largest coalition. The current prime minister is Tony Blair of the Labour Party, who has been in office since 1997.

The Mall looking onto Buckingham Palace, The official residence of the British Monarch.
The Mall looking onto Buckingham Palace, The official residence of the British Monarch.

In the United Kingdom, the monarch has extensive theoretical powers, but his/her role is mainly, though not exclusively, ceremonial . The monarch is an integral part of Parliament (as the " Crown-in-Parliament") and theoretically gives Parliament the power to meet and create legislation. An Act of Parliament does not become law until it has been signed by the monarch (known as Royal Assent), although not one has refused assent to a bill that has been approved by Parliament since Queen Anne in 1708 . Although the abolition of the monarchy has been suggested, the popularity of the monarchy remains strong in the United Kingdom. Support for a British republic usually fluctuates between 15% and 25% of the population, with roughly 10% undecided or indifferent. The current monarch is HM Queen Elizabeth II who acceded to the throne in 1952 and was crowned in 1953.

Parliament is the national legislature of the United Kingdom. It is the ultimate legislative authority in the United Kingdom, according to the doctrine of parliamentary sovereignty (however, questions over sovereignty have been brought forward because of the UK's entry in to the European Union ). It is bicameral, composed of the elected House of Commons and the unelected House of Lords, whose members are mostly appointed. The House of Commons is the more powerful of the two houses. The House of Commons houses 646 members who are directly elected from single-member constituencies based on population. The House of Lords has around 700 members (though the number is not fixed), constituted of life peers, hereditary peers, and bishops of the Church of England. (Note: The House of Lords Act 1999 removed the automatic inheritance of seats in the Lords and permitted just 92 hereditary peers to remain. The Church of England is the established church of the state in England .)

Since the 1920s, the two largest political parties in British politics have been the Labour Party and Conservative Party. Though coalition and minority governments have been an occasional feature of Parliamentary politics, the first-past-the-post electoral system used for general elections tends to maintain the dominance of these two parties, though each has in the past century relied upon a third party to deliver a working majority in Parliament . The Liberal Democrats are the third largest party in the British parliament and actively seek a reform of the electoral system to address the dominance of the two-party system .

Though many in the United Kingdom consider themselves 'British' as well as 'English', 'Scottish' 'Welsh', or 'Irish' (and increasingly also 'Afro-Caribbean', 'Indian', or 'Pakistani'), there has long been a widespread sense of separate national identities in the nations of Scotland and Wales and amongst the Catholic and Protestant community in Northern Ireland . Independence for the Republic of Ireland in 1922 provided only a partial solution to what had been termed in the 19th Century the 'Irish Question', and competing demands for a united Ireland or continued union with Great Britain have brought civil strife and political instability up to the present day.

Though 'nationalist' (as opposed to 'unionist') tendencies have shifted over time in Scotland and Wales, with the Scottish National Party founded in 1934 and Plaid Cymru (the Party of Wales) in 1925, a serious political crisis threatening the integrity of the United Kingdom as a state has not occurred since the 1970s. Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland each possess a legislature and government alongside that of the United Kingdom. However, this increased autonomy and devolution of executive and legislative powers has not contributed to a reduction in support for independence from the United Kingdom, with the rise of new pro-independence parties. For example, the Scottish Green Party and the Scottish Socialist Party have gained popularity in recent years but have not significantly dented the parliamentary dominance on the three main parties.

Parliament Buildings in Stormont, Belfast, seat of the Northern Ireland Assembly
Parliament Buildings in Stormont, Belfast, seat of the Northern Ireland Assembly

Tendencies to devolution with the wider United Kingdom have had only little resonance in England. There is currently little appetite for a devolved English parliament, although senior Conservatives and Liberal Democrats have voiced concerns in regard to the West Lothian Question , which is raised where certain policies for England are set by MPs from all four constituent nations whereas similar policies for Scotland or Wales might be decided in the devolved assemblies by legislators from those countries alone. Alternative proposals for English regional government have stalled, following a poorly received referendum on devolved government for the North East of England, which had hitherto been considered the region most in favour of the idea. England is therefore governed according to the balance of parties across the whole of the United Kingdom.

The resurgence in Celtic language and identity, as well as 'regional' politics and development, has contributed to forces pulling against the unity of the state . However, there is at present little sign of any imminent 'crisis' (at the last General Election, both the Scottish National Party and Plaid Cymru saw their percentage of the overall vote drop, though the SNP did gain two more seats and are the second largest party in the Scottish Parliament as well as official opposition). Nevertheless many in Scotland would like independence although most English do not. In Northern Ireland, there has been a significant decrease in violence over the last twenty years, though the situation remains tense, with the more hardline parties, such as Sinn Féin and the Democratic Unionists, now holding the most parliamentary seats (see Demographics and politics of Northern Ireland).


Parliament House, Edinburgh is the seat of the supreme courts of Scotland.
Parliament House, Edinburgh is the seat of the supreme courts of Scotland.

The United Kingdom has three distinct systems of law. English law, which applies in England and Wales, and Northern Ireland law, which applies in Northern Ireland, are based on common-law principles. Scots law, which applies in Scotland, is a hybrid system based on both common-law and civil-law principles. The Act of Union 1707 guarantees the continued existence of a separate law system for Scotland.

The Appelate Committee of the House of Lords (usually just referred to, confusingly, as "The House of Lords") is the highest court in the land for all criminal and civil cases in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland, and for all civil cases in Scots law. Recent constitutional changes will see the powers of the House of Lords transfer to a new Supreme Court of the United Kingdom.

In England and Wales, the court system is headed by the Supreme Court of Judicature 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). In Scotland, the chief courts are the Court of Session, for civil cases, and the High Court of Justiciary, for criminal cases, while the sheriff court is the Scottish equivalent of the county court.

The Judicial Committee of the Privy Council is the highest court of appeal for several independent Commonwealth countries, the UK overseas territories, and the British crown dependencies.


Map of the United Kingdom
Map of the United Kingdom


Most of England consists of rolling lowland terrain, divided east from west by more mountainous terrain in the Northwest ( Cumbrian Mountains of the Lake District) and north (the upland moors of the Pennines) and limestone hills of the Peak District by the Tees-Exe line. The lower limestone hills of the Isle of Purbeck, Cotswolds, Lincolnshire Wolds and chalk downs of the Southern England Chalk Formation. The main rivers and estuaries are the Thames, Severn and the Humber Estuary. The largest urban area is Greater London. Near Dover, the Channel Tunnel links the United Kingdom with France. There is no peak in England that is 1,000 metres (3,300  ft) or greater, the highest mountain being Scafell Pike in England's Lake District, at some 978 metres (3,208 ft).

Scotland's geography is varied, with lowlands in the south and east and highlands in the north and west, including Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in the British Isles at 1,343 metres (4,406 ft). There are many long and deep-sea arms, firths, and lochs. Scotland has nearly 800 islands, mainly west and north of the mainland, notably the Hebrides, Orkney Islands and Shetland Islands. The capital city is Edinburgh, the centre of which is a World Heritage Site. The largest city is Glasgow . In total it is estimated that the UK includes around 1,000 islands, with 700 in Scotland alone .

Wales (Cymru in Welsh) is mostly mountainous, the highest peak being Snowdon (Yr Wyddfa) at 1,085 metres (3,560 ft) above sea level. North of the mainland is the island of Anglesey (Ynys Môn). The largest and capital city is Cardiff (Caerdydd); it has been the Welsh Capital city since 1955, located in South Wales. The greatest concentration of people live in the south, in the cities of Swansea and Newport, as well as Cardiff, and the South Wales Valleys. The largest town in North Wales is Wrexham.

Northern Ireland, making up the north-eastern part of Ireland, is mostly hilly. The capital is Belfast ('Béal Feirste' in Irish), with other major cities being Derry ('Doire' in Irish) and Newry ('Iúr Cinn Trá' in Irish). The province is home to one of the UK’s World Heritage Sites, the Giant's Causeway, which consists of more than 40,000 six-sided basalt columns up to 40 feet (12 m) high. Lough Neagh, the largest body of water in the British Isles, by surface area (388 km² / 150 mi²), can be found in Northern Ireland. . The highest peak is Slieve Donard at 849 metres (2,786 ft) in the province's Mourne Mountains.


England has a temperate climate, with plentiful rainfall all year round, though the seasons are quite variable in temperature. However, temperatures rarely fall below −5 °C (23 °F) or rise above 32 °C (90 °F). The prevailing wind is from the southwest, bringing mild and wet weather to England regularly, from the Atlantic Ocean. It is driest in the east and warmest in the southeast, which is closest to the European mainland. Snowfall can occur in Winter and early Spring, though it is not that common away from high ground.

The highest temperature recorded in England is 38.5 °C (101.3 °F) on 10 August 2003 at Brogdale, near Faversham, Kent. . The lowest temperature ever recorded in England is −26.1 °C (−15.0 °F) on 10 January 1982 at Edgmond, near Newport, Shropshire.

Wales' climate is much like that of England with the highest maximum temperature recorded at 35.2 °C (95.4 °F) in Hawarden Bridge, Flintshire on 2 August 1990, and the lowest minimum temperature at -23.3 °C (-10 °F) in Rhayader, Radnorshire on 21 January 1940.

The climate of Scotland is temperate and oceanic, and tends to be very changeable. It is warmed by the Gulf Stream from the Atlantic, and as such is much warmer than areas on similar latitudes, for example Oslo, Norway. However, temperatures are generally lower than in the rest of the UK, with the coldest ever UK temperature of -27.2°C (-17.0 °F) recorded at Braemar in the Grampian Mountains, on 11 February 1895 and 10 January 1982 and also at Altnaharra, Highland, on 30 December 1995. Winter maximums average 6 °C (42.8 °F) in the lowlands, with summer maximums averaging 18 °C (64.4 °F). The highest temperature recorded was 32.9 °C (91.2 °F) at Greycrook, Scottish Borders on 9 August 2003.

Generally, western Scotland is warmer than the east because of the influence of the Atlantic ocean currents and the colder surface temperatures of the North Sea. Tiree, in the Inner Hebrides, is the sunniest place in Scotland: it had 300 days with sunshine in 1975. Rainfall varies widely across Scotland. The western highlands of Scotland are the wettest place, with annual rainfall exceeding 120 inches (3,000 mm). In comparison, much of lowland Scotland receives less than 31 inches (800 mm) annually. Heavy snowfall is not common in the lowlands, but becomes more common with altitude. Braemar experiences an average of 59 snow days per year, while coastal areas have an average of less than 10 days.

The whole of Northern Ireland has a temperate maritime climate, rather wetter in the west than the east, although cloud cover is persistent across the region. The weather is unpredictable at all times of the year, and although the seasons are distinct, they are considerably less pronounced than in interior Europe or the eastern seaboard of North America. Average daytime maximums in Belfast are 6.5 °C (43.7 °F) in January and 17.5 °C (63.5 °F) in July. The damp climate and extensive deforestation in the 16th and 17th centuries resulted in much of the region being covered in rich green grassland. The highest maximum temperature was set at 30.8 °C (87.4 °F) at Knockarevan, near Belleek, County Fermanagh on 30 June 1976 and at Belfast on 12 July 1983, whilst the lowest minimum temperature recorded at -17.5 °C (0.5 °F) in Magherally, near Banbridge, County Down on 1 January 1979.

The United Kingdom, along with the rest of Europe, has been hit by heatwaves during the summer in recent years. The heatwaves have been the reason for many deaths in the past years, with temperatures nearing the 40 °C (104 °F) mark.


Due to differences between the administrative boundaries and metropolitan areas of cities, and because of merging of settlements into conurbations, there are many different statistics and debates on which cities are the UK's largest. The four capitals of the United Kingdom's constituent countries are London (England), Edinburgh (Scotland), Cardiff (Wales) and Belfast (Northern Ireland). London is by far the UK's largest city. After that, the definition of largest is dependent upon the criteria used, but no one city stands out as larger than the others.


Trafalgar Square in London is one of the most famous public places in the United Kingdom.
Trafalgar Square in London is one of the most famous public places in the United Kingdom.


At the April 2001 UK Census, the United Kingdom's population was 58,789,194, the third-largest in the European Union (behind Germany and France) and the twenty-first largest in the world. This had been estimated up to 59,834,300 by the Office for National Statistics in 2004. Two years later it had increased to 60.2 million, largely from net immigration, but also because of a rising birth rate and increasing life expectancy.

Its overall population density is one of the highest in the world. About a quarter of the population lives in England's prosperous south-east and is predominantly urban and suburban, with an estimated 7,517,700 in the capital of London. The United Kingdom's high literacy rate (99%) is attributable to universal public education introduced for the primary level in 1870 and secondary level in 1900 (except in Scotland where it was introduced in 1696, see Education in Scotland). Education is mandatory from ages five to sixteen.


Located as they are on a group of islands close to Continental Europe, the lands now constituting the United Kingdom have been subject to many invasions and migrations, especially from Scandinavia and the continent, including Roman occupation for several centuries. Present day Britons are descended mainly from the varied ethnic stocks that settled there before the eleventh century. The pre-Celtic, Celtic, Roman, Anglo-Saxon, and Norse influences were blended on Great Britain under the Normans, Scandinavian Vikings who had lived in Northern France. Between the various constituent countries, there has been sufficient internal migration to mix the population.

Immigration has come through interaction with continental Europe and international ties forged by the British Empire. Constant waves of immigration hit the UK, with Europe, Africa and South-East Asia being the biggest areas from where people emigrate. As of 2001, 7.9% of the UK's population identified themselves as an ' ethnic minority'. The United Kingdom has amongst the highest immigration rates in Europe, along with Italy and Spain it is now believed that the percentage of ' ethnic minorities' is some 9% of the total UK population. In some UK cities the percentage of ' minority groups' is large but is still less than half, for example; Birmingham (UK's 2nd largest city) has 29.6% , Leicester 36% . The latest figures (for 2005) show net imigration to the UK of 185,000, down from a record high of 223,000 in 2004.

The latest wave of immigration to hit the UK began in May 2004 when the European Union was expanded. From May 2004 to September 2006, around 500,000 people from Central and Eastern Europe immigrated to the UK to work. This figure is for arrivals only and does not take account of people leaving, hence net migration is likely to be lower. In 2005 net migration from the new EU states stood at 64,000.

In addition, there are a large number of Indians, mainly from northern India, who make up about 2.0% of the population.


Whilst the UK does not have an official language, the predominant tongue is English. This is a West Germanic language, descended from Old English, which features a large number of borrowings from Norman French. The other main indigenous languages are the Insular Celtic languages, i.e. the Celtic languages of the British Isles. These fall into two groups: the P-Celtic languages ( Welsh and the Cornish language); and the Q-Celtic languages ( Irish and Scottish Gaelic).

The English language has spread to all corners of the world (primarily because of the British Empire) and is referred to as a "global language". Worldwide, it is taught as a second language more than any other. The United Kingdom's Celtic languages are also spoken by small groups around the globe, mainly Gaelic in Nova Scotia, Canada, and Welsh in Patagonia, Argentina.

Additional indigenous languages are Scots (which is closely related to English); Romany ; and British Sign Language ( Northern Ireland Sign Language is also used in Northern Ireland). Celtic dialectal influences from Cumbric persisted in Northern England for many centuries, most famously in a unique set of numbers used for counting sheep.

Recent immigrants, especially from the Commonwealth, speak many other languages, including Gujarati, Hindi, Punjabi, Urdu, Bengali, Cantonese, Turkish and Polish. The United Kingdom has the largest number of Hindi and Punjabi speakers outside Asia.


Canterbury Cathedral, one of the oldest and most famous Christian structures in the UK.
Canterbury Cathedral, one of the oldest and most famous Christian structures in the UK.

Unlike many countries today, which are officially secular, the UK is an officially Christian country. This is reflected throughout British public life, for instance, there are established state churches in England and Scotland and the Head of State is a Christian monarch crowned by an Arch-bishop in a church. British society is said to belong to the Judaeo-Christian tradition.

A majority of Britons, 72%, identify themselves as Christian. Christianity was first introduced to Britain by the Romans.

Despite this, a relatively small proportion of the population attends public worship on a weekly basis. The United Kingdom has one of the lowest levels of public worship attendance in the world, with less than 8% of people attending any form of worship on a regular basis (of whom the majority are of middle-aged and older generations).

Each home nation has its own church hierarchy.

The Church of England is the officially established Christian church in England, and acts as the 'mother' and senior branch of the worldwide Anglican Communion. Originally established as part of the Roman Catholic Church in 597AD by Augustine of Canterbury on behalf of Pope Gregory I, the Church split from Rome in 1534 during the reign of Henry VIII of England. The Church of England is a state church, and some of her bishops sit in the House of Lords. The British monarch is required to be a member of the Church of England under the Act of Settlement 1701 and is the Supreme Governor. Roman Catholics are expressly forbidden from becoming monarch, stemming from conflict over the crown and whether Britain was in the past, Catholic or Protestant. The Church of England is based at Canterbury Cathedral and the Archbishop of Canterbury is the senior clergyman.

Westminster Abbey is used for the Coronation of all British Monarchs, who are also made the head of the Church of England.
Westminster Abbey is used for the Coronation of all British Monarchs, who are also made the head of the Church of England.

The Church of Scotland (known informally as The Kirk) is the national church of Scotland. It is a Presbyterian church and is not subject to state control. The British monarch is an ordinary member, although the monarch is required to swear an oath to "defend the security" of the Church at their coronation. Splits in the Church since the reformation have led to the creation of various other Presbyterian churches in Scotland including the Free Church of Scotland and the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland.

The Church of England was established in Wales until the 1920s, when the Church in Wales was separated from the Church of England and disestablished. The Church in Wales remains in the Anglican Communion. The Church of Ireland was disestablished in the 19th century.

The Roman Catholic Church is the second largest denomination of Christianity in the UK. After the Reformation, strict laws were passed against Catholics; these were removed by the Catholic Emancipation laws in the 1850s. The Catholic hierarchy is separate in England and Wales, Scotland.

In Northern Ireland the Catholic Church in Ireland is the largest single denomination. The Presbyterian Church in Ireland is the largest Protestant denomination and is in terms of theology and history very closely linked to the Church of Scotland. Other large Christian groups are the Methodists and the Baptists.

Hindu temple at Neasden is the largest temple of Hinduism in Europe.
Hindu temple at Neasden is the largest temple of Hinduism in Europe.

Modern day Britain is much more diverse in terms of religion. As well as Christianity, Islam and Hinduism have many followers in the UK. Sikhism, Judaism and other religions have smaller numbers.

Muslims are believed to number over 1.8 million, with many of them living in towns and cities including London, Birmingham, Bradford and Oldham. Mosques are a common sight in some parts of modern day Britain. The biggest groups of British Muslims are of Pakistani, Indian and Bangladeshi origin. More recently, the wave of Somali and Middle-Eastern asylum seekers has increased Britain's Muslim population. The 2006 controversy over the burqa, brought up IN comments by Jack Straw, reflects a split between some Britons who are questioning the extent to which Islam is compatible with British society, and others who are happy with the widespread presence of Islam in Britain.

The religions of Indian origin, like Hinduism and Sikhism in Britain are also increasing in number, with over 500,000 Hindus and 320,000 Sikhs in the country. However, these figures are likely to have increased, as they are based on the 2001 census.


The City of London, the largest financial centre in Europe
The City of London, the largest financial centre in Europe

The British economy is the home of the Anglo-Saxon model, focusing on the principles of liberalisation, the free market, 'common law' relating to property, and low taxation and regulation. Based on market exchange rates, the United Kingdom is the fifth largest economy in the world; , the second largest in Europe after Germany, and the sixth-largest overall by purchasing power parity (PPP) exchange rates.

The British were the first in the world to enter the Industrial Revolution, and, like most industrialising countries at the time, initially concentrated on heavy industries such as shipbuilding, coal mining, steel production, and textiles. The empire created an overseas market for British products, allowing the United Kingdom to dominate international trade in the 19th century. However, as other nations industrialised and surplus labour from agriculture began to dry up, the United Kingdom started to lose its economic advantage. As a result, heavy industry declined throughout the 20th century. The British service sector, however, has grown substantially, and now makes up about 73% of GDP.

The service sector of the United Kingdom is dominated by financial services, especially in banking and insurance. London is one of the world's largest financial centres with the London Stock Exchange, the London International Financial Futures and Options Exchange, and the Lloyd's of London insurance market all based in the city. It also has the largest concentration of foreign bank branches in the world. In the past decade, a rival financial centre in London has grown in the Docklands area, with HSBC, Citigroup, and Barclays Bank all relocating their head offices there. The Scottish capital, Edinburgh also has one of the large financial centres of Europe .

Tourism is very important to the British economy. With over 27 million tourists a year, the United Kingdom is ranked as the sixth major tourist destination in the world.

The British manufacturing sector, however, has greatly diminished since World War II. It is still a significant part of the economy, but only accounted for one-sixth of national output in 2003.. The British motor industry is a significant part of this sector, although all large-volume producers are now foreign-owned. Civil and defence aircraft production is led by the United Kingdom's largest aerospace firm, BAE Systems, and the pan-European consortium known as Airbus. Rolls-Royce holds a major share of the global aerospace engines market. The chemical and pharmaceutical industry is also strong in the UK, with the world's second and third largest pharmaceutical firms (GlaxoSmithKline and AstraZeneca, respectively) being based in the UK.

The United Kingdom's agriculture sector is small by European standards, accounting for only 0.9% of GDP. The UK though has large coal, natural gas, and oil reserves. Primary energy production accounts for about 10% of Gross domestic product (GDP), one of the highest shares of any industrial state.

The currency of the UK is pound sterling, represented by the symbol £. The Bank of England is the central bank and is responsible for issuing currency, although banks in Scotland and Northern Ireland retain the right to issue their own notes, subject to retaining enough Bank of England notes in reserve to cover the issue. The UK chose not to join the Euro on the currency's launch, although the government has pledged to hold a public referendum for deciding membership if "five economic tests" are met. Currently UK public opinion is against the notion.

Government involvement over the economy is exercised by the Chancellor of the Exchequer (currently Gordon Brown) who heads HM Treasury, but the Prime Minister (currently Tony Blair), is First Lord of the Treasury (the Chancellor of the Exchequer being the Second Lord of the Treasury). However since 1997, the Bank of England, headed by the Governor of the Bank of England, has control of interest rates and other monetary policy. The UK government has greatly increased public sector spending (i.e.: government spending of taxes) since 1995, and annual spending on investment in infrastructure has grown from £5.6bn in 1997 to £29bn in 2006.

Administrative subdivisions

The United Kingdom is divided into four parts, commonly referred to as the home nations or constituent countries. Each nation is further subdivided for the purposes of local government. The Queen appoints a Lord-Lieutenant as her personal representative in lieutenancy areas across the UK; this is little more than a ceremonial role. The following table highlights the arrangements for local government, lieutenancy areas and cities across the home nations of the UK:

Manchester Town Hall. Many towns and cities in the UK have impressive town or city hall buildings as administrative headquarters for local government
Manchester Town Hall. Many towns and cities in the UK have impressive town or city hall buildings as administrative headquarters for local government
Flag Country Status Population Subdivisions Cities
England England Kingdom 50,431,700 Regions
Metropolitan and non-metropolitan counties
Lieutenancy areas
English Cities
Scotland Scotland Kingdom 5,094,800 Council areas
Lieutenancy areas
Scottish Cities
Wales Wales Principality 2,958,600 Unitary authorities
Lieutenancy areas
Welsh Cities
Northern Ireland Northern Ireland Province 1,724,400 Districts
Traditional counties
Northern Irish Cities

Historically, the four nations were divided into counties as areas for local government administration. Although these are still used to some extent for this purpose and as geographical areas, they are no longer the sole basis for local government administration.

In recent years, England has for some purposes been divided into nine intermediate-level Government Office Regions. Each region is made up of counties and unitary authorities, apart from London, which consists of London boroughs. Although at one point it was intended that each or some of these regions would be given its own elected regional assembly, the plan's future is uncertain, as of 2004, after the North East region rejected its proposed assembly in a referendum.

City status is governed by Royal Charter. There are currently 66 British cities (50 in England; 6 in Scotland; 5 in Wales; and 5 in Northern Ireland).

The Crown has sovereignty over the Bailiwicks of Jersey and Guernsey, and the Isle of Man, known collectively as the crown dependencies. These are lands historically owned by the British monarch, but are not part of the United Kingdom itself. They are also not in the European Union. However, the Parliament of the United Kingdom has the authority to legislate for the dependencies, and the British government manages their foreign affairs and defence.

The UK also has fourteen overseas territories around the world, the last remaining territories of the British Empire. The overseas territories are also not considered part of the UK, but in most cases the local populations have British citizenship and the right to abode in the UK. This has been the case since 2002.


The Royal Navy operates four nuclear submarines armed with the Trident II nuclear missile.
The Royal Navy operates four nuclear submarines armed with the Trident II nuclear missile.

The armed forces of the United Kingdom are known as the British Armed Forces or Her Majesty's Armed Forces, but officially Armed Forces of the Crown. Their Commander-in-Chief is the British monarch, HM The Queen and they are managed by the Ministry of Defence. The armed forces are controlled by the Defence Council currently headed by Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup.

The United Kingdom fields one of the most powerful and comprehensive armed forces in the world. Its global power projection capabilities are deemed second only to the United States military, and its navy is the world's second strongest. Further, the Royal Navy's total naval tonnage is second only to the United States military and the third largest share of tactical combat aircraft to the US and France. The UK has the fifth highest military expenditure in the world.

The United Kingdom possesses a comprehensive nuclear arsenal, one of the small number of countries to do so, utilising the submarine-based Trident II ballistic missile system with nuclear warheads. These Vanguard class submarines were designed and built by VSEL (now BAE Systems Submarines) at Barrow-in-Furness.

The strength of British armed forces and their role overseas, has led some to call the era a British Moment, where the nation has a unique and growing role in world affairs.

The British Armed Forces are charged with protecting the United Kingdom and its overseas territories, promoting the United Kingdom's wider security interests, and supporting international peacekeeping efforts. They are active and regular participants in the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) and other coalition operations.

The British Army had a reported strength of 102,440 in 2005 and the Royal Air Force a strength of 49,210. The 36,320-member Royal Navy operates the United Kingdom's nuclear deterrent, which consists of four Trident missile-armed submarines, while the Royal Marines are the Royal Navy's Light Infantry units for amphibious operations and for specialist reinforcement forces in and beyond the NATO area. This puts total active duty military personnel in the 190,000 range, currently deployed in over 80 countries.

There are also reserve forces supporting the regular military. These include an army reserve, the Territorial Army (TA); the Royal Naval Reserve (RNR), Royal Marines Reserve (RMR) and the Royal Auxiliary Air Force (RAuxAF). About 9% of the regular armed forces is made up of women, a figure that is higher for the reserve forces.

The United Kingdom Special Forces, principally the Special Air Service (SAS) and Special Boat Service (SBS), but including others, provide troops trained for quick, mobile, military responses in counter-terrorism, land, maritime and amphibious operations, often where secrecy or covert operations are required. The Royal Navy is the second largest navy in the western world in terms of gross tonnage. Despite the United Kingdom's wide-ranging capabilities, recent pragmatic defence policy has a stated assumption that "the most demanding operations" would be undertaken as part of a coalition. Bosnia, Kosovo, United States invasion of Afghanistan, Iraq ( Granby, no-fly zones, Desert Fox, and Telic) may all be taken as precedent; indeed the last war in which the British military fought alone was the Falklands War of 1982, with full-scale combat operations lasting almost three months.


Education and science

The United Kingdom contains some of the world's leading, and oldest, seats of higher education , such as the ancient multifaculty universities at Oxford and Cambridge. It has produced many great scholars, scientists and engineers including Sir Isaac Newton, Bertrand Russell, Adam Smith, James Clerk Maxwell, Lord Kelvin, Sir Humphry Davy, Joseph John Thomson, Sir Ronald Aylmer Fisher, Michael Faraday, Charles Darwin, Alexander Fleming, Francis Crick, Sir Joseph William Bazalgette and Isambard Kingdom Brunel; the nation is credited with numerous scientific discoveries including hydrogen, gravity, the electron, structure of DNA, antibiotics and inventions including the chronometer, steam locomotive and the modern railway, vaccination, television, electric lighting, the electric motor, the screw propeller, the internal combustion engine, the jet engine, the modern bicycle, the electronic computer, along with the later development of the World Wide Web.

In 2006, it was reported that the UK was the most productive source of research after the United States; with the UK producing 9% of the world's scientific research papers with a 12% share of citations.


The Chandos portrait, believed to depict William Shakespeare, famed playwright
The Chandos portrait, believed to depict William Shakespeare, famed playwright

The countries that make up the United Kingdom have provided some of the world's most notable and popular authors, poets and literary figures. The English playwright and poet William Shakespeare is arguably the most famous writer in the English language.

Many world-famous writers and poets lived and wrote in the United Kingdom. England is particularly well represented in the history of the novel. Early English writers who could be described as novelists include Geoffrey Chaucer, Thomas Malory and Geoffrey of Monmouth. These romantic writers were followed by a wave of more realistic writers in later centuries, including Jane Austen (often credited with inventing the modern novel), Charles Dickens, the Brontë sisters, Thomas Hardy, Joseph Conrad, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and H. G. Wells. In the 20th century, Virginia Woolf, D. H. Lawrence, J. R. R. Tolkien, George Orwell, Graham Greene and Ian McEwan all excelled. Tolkien became one of the most popular writers of the modern world, returning to a Romantic view of fiction. Childrens' author J. K. Rowling has had huge recent success.

Wales and Scotland have also contributed many fine writers to the UK's stock of great literature, particularly in poetry. In the early medieval period, Welsh writers composed the famous Mabinogion. In modern times, the poets R.S. Thomas and Dylan Thomas bring Welsh culture and ideas to a world audience. In Romantic literature, Scotland offers Sir Walter Scott and Robert Louis Stevenson's epic adventures and the leading poet of his day, Robert Burns. Modern Scottish writers like Hugh MacDiarmid and Neil M. Gunn helped develop a distinct modernist and nationalist Scottish voice, sometimes termed the Scottish Renaissance. A more grim outlook is found in Ian Rankin's detective stories set in Edinburgh.

Many authors from other nationalities, particularly the Irish, and from Commonwealth countries, have also lived and worked in the UK. Significant examples through the centuries include Jonathon Swift, Oscar Wilde, Bram Stoker, George Bernard Shaw, Joseph Conrad and Salman Rushdie. Kazuo Ishiguro offers another viewpoint, that of a Japanese author working in the United Kingdom and writing on British themes such as social class.

The history of the theatre in the United Kingdom is particularly vivid. Shakespeare's contemporaries Christopher Marlowe and Ben Jonson add depth to the early theatre. More recently Alan Ayckbourn, Harold Pinter, Michael Frayn, Tom Stoppard and David Edgar have combined elements of surrealism, realism and radicalism.

Important poets include Geoffrey Chaucer, John Milton, William Blake, Robert Burns, William Wordsworth, Lord Byron, John Keats, Lord Tennyson, T. S. Eliot, R. S. Thomas, Wilfred Owen, John Betjeman, Philip Larkin, W. H. Auden and Ted Hughes.


The United Kingdom has been influential in the development of cinema. Despite a history of important and successful productions, the industry is characterised by an ongoing debate about its identity, and the influences of American and European cinema.

Design and architecture

The British Airways London Eye.
The British Airways London Eye.

The United Kingdom has produced a number of important architects, including Sir Christopher Wren, and Sir Norman Foster along with designers Charles Rennie Mackintosh and Jonathan Ive.


Notable composers from the United Kingdom have included Henry Purcell, Sir Edward Elgar, Sir Arthur Sullivan (most famous for working with librettist Sir W. S. Gilbert), Ralph Vaughan Williams, and Lord Benjamin Britten who pioneered British opera.

The UK was, with the US, one of the two main contributors in the development of rock and roll, and the UK has provided some of the world's most famous rock bands including The Beatles, Queen, Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, The Who, Pink Floyd, Black Sabbath, Depeche Mode, Iron Maiden and The Rolling Stones. The UK was at the forefront of punk rock with bands like The Sex Pistols and The Clash, music in the 1970s as well as the creation of heavy metal along with being the birthplace of the Goth youth culture. The late-1970s and 1980s saw the rise of Post-Punk and New Wave. The so-called 'Second British Invasion' into the US popular music scene took place from 1982 to 1984 when UK bands flooded the US Billboard charts. In the mid to late-1990s, the Britpop phenomenon saw bands such as Radiohead, Oasis and Blur attain considerable national and international success. The 1990s also saw the rise of major Welsh bands such as The Stereophonics and Manic Street Preachers. The UK is also at the forefront of electronica, with British artists such as The Prodigy and The Chemical Brothers helping this mainly underground genre to cross over into the mainstream (having originated in the early-90's with techno bands such as Orbital). Also British pop producers Stock Aitken Waterman - dominated the charts in the late-80's and early-90's with their instantly recognisable brand of pop from acts including today's pop superstar, Kylie Minogue. The 1990s charts were also dominated by the boy band phenomenon, with groups such as Take That thriving amongst countless others. Girl groups like the Spice Girls and Sugababes also found considerable success. UK Garage developed out of the urban music scene towards the end of the decade, through popular acts such as the Artful Dodger. The popularity of ' soft rock' bands such as Coldplay has increased, whilst indie music has grown in profile, with Arctic Monkeys enjoying chart success and Pete Doherty gaining newspaper headlines. ' Reality-TV' have also produced a new generation of popstars.

Visual art

William Turner's "Flint Castle".
William Turner's " Flint Castle".


Tennis originated in the UK. The Wimbledon Championships Grand Slam tournament is held in London every July.
Tennis originated in the UK. The Wimbledon Championships Grand Slam tournament is held in London every July.

A number of major sports originated in the United Kingdom, including association football (football, or soccer), rugby football (rugby), golf, cricket, tennis and boxing.

The most popular sport in the UK is association football (known as soccer in North America and Australia), commonly referred to as just "football". The UK does not compete as a nation in any major football tournament. Instead, the home nations compete individually as England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. It is because of this unique four-team arrangement that the UK currently does not compete in football events at the Olympic Games. However, there is talk of a united team taking part in the 2012 Summer Olympic Games, which are to be hosted in London. The English and Northern Irish football associations have confirmed participation in this team while the Scottish FA and the Welsh FA have so far declined to participate.

The UK is home to many world-renowned football clubs, such as Manchester United, Liverpool, Chelsea, and Arsenal in England, and Celtic and Rangers in Scotland. Clubs compete in national leagues and competitions and some go on to compete in European competitions. British teams are generally successful in European Competitions and several have become European Cup/UEFA Champions League winners: Liverpool (five times), Manchester United (twice), Nottingham Forest (twice), Aston Villa and Celtic.

Wembley Stadium when completed will be the largest football stadium in the United Kingdom.
Wembley Stadium when completed will be the largest football stadium in the United Kingdom.

The early reference to the separate national identities in the UK is perhaps best illustrated by the game of cricket. Cricket was invented in England. There are league championships but the English national team dominates the game in England. There is no UK team. Although some Welsh and Scottish players have played for England, it is in England where cricket retains its major fan base in the UK. English cricket grounds include Lords, The Brit Oval, Headingly, Old Trafford, Edgbaston and Trent Bridge. However Cardiff's Sophia Gardens ground has become increasingly popular in recent years.

The UK has proved successful in the international sporting arena in rowing. It is widely considered that the sport's most successful rower is Steven Redgrave who won five gold and one bronze medals at five consecutive Olympic Games as well as numerous wins at the World Rowing Championships and Henley Royal Regatta.

Both forms of rugby are national sports. Rugby league originates from and is generally played in the North of England, whilst Rugby Union is played predominantly in Wales, Northern Ireland and Southern England. Having supposedly originated from the actions of William Webb Ellis at the town of Rugby, it is considered the national sport of Wales. In rugby league the UK plays as one nation – Great Britain – though in union it is represented by four nations: England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland (which consists of players from the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland). England is the current holder of the Rugby World Cup. Every four years the British and Irish Lions tour either Australia, New Zealand or South Africa. Here, rugby football differs internationally to association football, as the England, Scotland, Wales, and Ireland (including Northern Ireland) teams do come together to form the British and Irish Lions, though they do all compete separately internationally for the most part.

The Wimbledon Championships are international tennis events held in Wimbledon in south London every summer and are seen as the most prestigious of the tennis calendar.

The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews regarded as the worldwide "Home of Golf".
The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews regarded as the worldwide "Home of Golf".

Thoroughbred racing is also very popular in England. It originated under Charles II of England as the "Sport of Kings" and is a royal pastime to this day. World-famous horse races include the Grand National, the Epsom Derby and Royal Ascot.

Golf is one of the most popular participation sports played in the UK, and St Andrews in Scotland is the sport's home course. Cricket is also popular; although the popularity of the game is dramatically greater in England than in other parts of the UK, all four constituent nations as of 2006 compete at the One-Day International level – Scotland independently, Wales as part of the English team, and Northern Ireland as part of All-Ireland.

Shinty or camanachd (a sport derived from the same root as the Irish hurling and similar to bandy) is popular in the Scottish Highlands, sometimes attracting crowds numbering thousands in the most sparsely populated region of the UK.

The country is closely associated with motorsport. Many teams and drivers in Formula One and the World Rally Championship are based in the UK. The country also hosts legs of the F1 and World Rallying Championship calendars and has its own Touring Car Racing championship, the BTCC.

British Formula One World Champions include Mike Hawthorn, Graham Hill (twice), Jim Clark (twice), John Surtees (who was also successful on motorcycles), Jackie Stewart (three times), James Hunt, Nigel Mansell, and Graham Hill's son, Damon Hill. British drivers have not been as successful in the World Rally Championship, with only Colin McRae and the late Richard Burns winning the title.


The Statue of Britannia in Plymouth.
The Statue of Britannia in Plymouth.
  • The flag of the United Kingdom is the Union Flag (commonly known as the "Union Jack", though this is technically only correct when at sea). Created from the superimposition of the flags of England ( St George's Cross) and Scotland ( Saint Andrew's Cross); the Saint Patrick's cross, representing Ireland, was added to this in 1801.
  • The national anthem of the UK is " God Save the Queen".
  • Britannia is a personification of the UK, originating from the Roman occupation of southern and central Great Britain. 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 the back of a lion. In modern usage, Britannia is often associated with maritime dominance, as in the patriotic song Rule Britannia.
  • The lion has also been used as a symbol of the UK; one is depicted behind Britannia on the 50 pence piece and one is shown crowned on the back of the 10 pence piece. It is also used as a symbol on the non-ceremonial flag of the British Army. Lions have been used as heraldic devices many times, including in the royal arms of both the kingdoms of England, Scotland and Kingdom of Gwynedd in Wales. The lion is featured on the emblem of the England national football team, giving rise to the popular football anthem Three Lions.
  • Britain (especially England) is also personified as the character John Bull.
  • The ancient British landscape, and especially some of its distinctive fauna such as the oak tree and the rose, have long been a widely-used proxy for the visual representation of British identity.
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