The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland comprises Great Britain (England, Scotland and Wales) and Northern Ireland. Also known as simply the United Kingdom (UK), it is situated just off the north-western coast of mainland 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.

United Kingdom of Great Britain
and Northern Ireland

Teyrnas Unedig Prydain Fawr
a Gogledd Iwerddon
An Rìoghachd Aonaichte na Breatainn Mhòr
agus Eirinn mu Thuath
(Scots Gaelic)
Ríocht Aontaithe na Breataine Móire
agus Thuaisceart Éireann
Unitit Kinrick o Great Breetain
an Northren Ireland
(In Detail) (Full size)
Royal motto: Dieu et mon droit
(French: God and my right)
Official language None. English is de facto1
Largest CityLondon
QueenElizabeth II
Prime MinisterTony Blair
 - Total
 - % water
Ranked 76th
244,101 km²
 - Total (2003)
 - Density
Ranked 21st
Establishment21801 Act of Union
Currency Pound Sterling
Time zone UTC, Summer: +1 UTC
National anthemGod Save the Queen (unofficial)
Internet TLD.UK (but ISO 3166-1 is GB)
Calling Code44
International call prefix00
(1) Equal with Scottish Gaelic and Welsh in Scotland and Wales respectively.
(2) Formed as United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. Name changed to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland in 1927.

Table of contents
1 History
2 Politics
3 Countries, Regions, Counties, Areas and Districts
4 Geography
5 Economy
6 Demographics
7 Culture
8 Miscellaneous topics
9 External links


Main article: History of the United Kingdom

England has existed as a unified entity since the 10th century. Wales, under English control since the Statute of Rhuddlan in 1284, became part of the Kingdom of England by the 1536 Act of Union. In the 1707 Act of Union, 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 1801 Act of Union, the Kingdom of Great Britain merged 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. With the formation of 26 Irish counties into the Irish Free State in 1922, the six remaining Ulster counties remaining part of the United Kingdom as Northern Ireland, the country was renamed the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland in 1927. The nation had two periods of republican rule in the 17th century before reverting to a monarchy in 1660.

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 government, though carried out in the monarch's name, 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. Today, her role is mainly ceremonial, with the country's real political power being delegated to the Prime Minister.

The United Kingdom is a very centralised state, with London's Westminster Parliament holding responsibility for most of the political affairs of the Kingdom. In recent years however, each of the countries apart from England has been granted its own governmental body responsible in varying degree for some internal matters.

See also:

Countries, Regions, Counties, Areas and Districts

Main article:
Subdivisions of the United Kingdom

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

Wales and England are grouped 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/or Metropolitan Counties and/or 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 24 Districts, 2 Cities, and 6 Counties.

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 16 other sovereign countries that are known as Commonwealth Realms, although Britain has very little political influence over these independent nations.

Other articles: Cities of the United Kingdom, Towns of the United Kingdom, Local government in England


Main article: Geography of the United Kingdom

Most of England consists of rolling terrain, but the country is more mountainous in the north; the dividing line between terrain types is usually identified as the Tees-Exe line. The main rivers are the Thames and the Severn; major cities include London, Birmingham, Manchester, Sheffield, Liverpool, Leeds, 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.


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 privatization 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.

  1. Are business cycles and economic structures compatible with European interest rates on a permanent basis?
  2. If problems emerge, is there sufficient flexibility to deal with them?
  3. What impact would entry into the euro have on the UK's financial services industry?
  4. Would joining the euro create better conditions for firms making long-term decisions to invest in Britain?
  5. Would joining the euro promote higher growth, stability and a lasting increase in jobs?


Main article:
Demographics of the United Kingdom

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


Main article: Culture of the United Kingdom

The United Kingdom has two of the world's most famous universities in its borders, the University of Cambridge and the University of Oxford, and has brought forth great scientists and engineers such as Isaac Newton, James Watt, Charles Darwin, and Alexander Fleming.

Playwright William Shakespeare is arguably the most famous writer in the world; other well-known writers include the Bronte sisters, Agatha Christie, Charles Dickens, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Chaucer and J. R. R. Tolkien. Important poets include Robert Burns, Thomas Hardy, John Milton, Alfred Tennyson, 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 and Oliver Knussen.

Britain has been described as a land without music, but it 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, and its several music colleges have helped to teach many well known musicians. Because of its location and other economic factors London is one of the most important cities for music in the world, and 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 has also produced the famous Rock and roll bands The Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, The Who, Pink Floyd, Status Quo, Sex Pistols, Oasis, and Radiohead. It has also pioneered in various forms of electronic dance music such as acid house, drum and bass and trip hop, which were in whole or part developed in the United Kingdom and have spawned various internationally known acts such as Underworld, Massive Attack, The Chemical Brothers and Portishead. The United Kingdom is one of three countries which have a profitable recorded music industry, based mostly on popular music, the others being the United States and Sweden. (see main article: Music of the United Kingdom).

Visual artists from the United Kingdom include such luminaries as John Constable, 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 are 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, and London has many theatres which put on plays and musicals, including the National Theatre.

Public Holidays (known as Bank Holidays)
1 JanuaryNew Year's Day
2 January(Scotland only)
17 MarchSt Patrick's Day (Northern Ireland only)
The Friday before Easter SundayGood Friday
The day after Easter SundayEaster Monday (not Scotland)
First Monday in MayMay Day
Last Monday in MaySpring Bank Holiday
12 JulyBattle of the Boyne - Orangemen's Day (Northern Ireland only)
First Monday in AugustSummer Bank Holiday (Scotland only)
Last Monday in AugustSummer Bank Holiday (not Scotland)
25 DecemberChristmas Day
26 December or 27 December(1)Boxing Day

  1. 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.

Miscellaneous topics

Main article:
list of United Kingdom-related topics

External links

European Union:
Austria  |  Belgium  |  Denmark  |  Finland  |  France  |  Germany  |  Greece  |  Ireland
Italy  |  Luxembourg  |  Netherlands  |  Portugal  |  Spain  |  Sweden  |  United Kingdom

Countries acceding to membership on May 1, 2004:
Cyprus  |  Czech Republic  |  Estonia  |  Hungary  |  Latvia  |  Lithuania  |  Malta  |  Poland  |  Slovakia  |  Slovenia

Countries of the world  |  Europe  |  Council of Europe

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