United Kingdom of Great Britain
and Northern Ireland
"God Save the Queen"
(and largest city)
|Official language(s)||English (de facto)|
|Recognised regional languages||Irish, Ulster Scots, Scottish Gaelic , Scots, Welsh, Cornish|
|Ethnic groups (2001
See: UK ethnic groups list)
4.0% South Asian
|Demonym||British or Briton|
|Government||Unitary parliamentary democracy and constitutional monarchy|
|-||Monarch||Queen Elizabeth II
|-||Prime Minister||David Cameron MP|
|-||Upper House||House of Lords|
|-||Lower House||House of Commons|
|-||Acts of Union 1707||1 May 1707|
|-||Acts of Union 1800||1 January 1801|
|-||Anglo-Irish Treaty||12 April 1922|
|EU accession||1 January 1973|
|-||Total||243610 km2 (79th)
|-||2010 estimate||62,041,708 (22nd)|
|GDP (PPP)||2009 estimate|
|GDP (nominal)||2009 estimate|
|HDI (2010)||0.849 (very high) (26th)|
|Currency||Pound sterling (
|Time zone||GMT (UTC+0)|
|-||Summer (DST)||BST (UTC+1)|
|Date formats||dd/mm/yyyy (AD)|
|Drives on the||left|
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (commonly known as the United Kingdom, the UK, or Britain) is a sovereign state located off the north-western coast of continental Europe. It is an island nation, spanning an archipelago including Great Britain, the northeastern part of the island of Ireland, and many smaller islands. Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK with a land border with another sovereign state, sharing it with the Republic of Ireland. Apart from this land border, the UK is surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean, the North Sea, the English Channel, and the Irish Sea.
The United Kingdom is a constitutional monarchy and unitary state. It is a country consisting of four countries: England, Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales. It is governed by a parliamentary system with its seat of government in the capital city of London. There are three devolved national administrations, with varying powers in Belfast, Cardiff and Edinburgh, the capitals of Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland respectively. There are three Crown Dependencies  and fourteen overseas territories that are not constitutionally part of the UK. These territories are remnants of the British Empire, which at its height in 1922 encompassed almost a quarter of the world's land surface, the largest empire in history. As a result, British influence can still be observed in the language, culture and legal systems of many of its former territories.
The UK is a developed country, with the world's sixth largest economy by both nominal GDP and by purchasing power parity. It was the world's first industrialised country and the world's foremost power during the 19th and early 20th centuries, but the economic and social cost of two world wars and the decline of its empire in the latter half of the 20th century diminished its leading role in global affairs. The UK nevertheless remains a great power with leading economic, cultural, military, scientific and political influence. It is a recognised nuclear weapons state while its military expenditure ranks third or fourth in the world, depending on the method of calculation. It is a Member State of the European Union, a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, and a member of the Commonwealth of Nations, G8, G20, NATO, OECD, the Council of Europe and the World Trade Organization.
On 1 May 1707, the United Kingdom of Great Britain was created by the political union of the Kingdom of England and the Kingdom of Scotland. This event was the result of the Treaty of Union that was agreed on 22 July 1706, and then ratified by both the Parliament of England and Parliament of Scotland each passing an Act of Union in 1707. The kingdoms of England and Scotland, together with the kingdom of Ireland, had already been in a personal union as a result of the Union of the Crowns in 1603, when James VI, King of Scots inherited the Kingdoms of England and Ireland and moved his court from Edinburgh to London. However, until 1707, all three remained separate political entities and retained their separate political institutions. Almost a century later the Kingdom of Ireland merged with the Kingdom of Great Britain to form the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland with the passing of the Act of Union 1800. In this way, the United Kingdom became the union of the kingdoms of England, Ireland and Scotland. Disputes within Ireland over the terms of Irish Home Rule led eventually to the partition of the island in 1921, with Dominion status for the Irish Free State in 1922 while Northern Ireland remained part of the UK. As a result, in 1927, the formal title of the UK was changed to its current form, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
In the 18th century, the United Kingdom played an important role in developing Western ideas of the parliamentary system as well as making significant contributions to literature, the arts, and science. The UK-led Industrial Revolution transformed the country and fuelled the growing British Empire. During this time the UK, like other great powers, was involved in colonial exploitation, including the Atlantic slave trade, although with the passing of the Slave Trade Act in 1807 the UK took a leading role in combating the trade in slaves.
After the defeat of France in the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars (1792–1815), the UK emerged as the principal naval and economic power of the 19th century (with London the largest city in the world from about 1830 to 1930) and remained a foremost power into the mid 20th century. Beside Russia, France and (after 1917) the USA, the British were one of the major powers opposing Germany and its allies in World War I (1914–18). Engaged in much of its empire, several regions in Europe and increasingly taking a major role on the Western front, the armed forces grew to over five million people.
The nation suffered an estimated two and a half million casualties and finished the war with a huge national debt. After the war the United Kingdom received the League of Nations mandate over former German and Ottoman colonies and the British Empire had expanded to its greatest extent, covering a fifth of the world's land surface and a quarter of its population. The Great Depression (1929–32) occurred at a time when the UK was still far from having recovered from the effects of the war and led to hardship and political and social unrest.
The United Kingdom was one of the three main Allies of World War II. Following the defeat of its European allies in the first year of the war, the United Kingdom continued the fight against Germany, which took form in these years with the Battle of Britain. After the victory, the UK was one of the Big Three powers that met to plan the postwar world. The war left the United Kingdom financially damaged. However, Marshall Aid and loans taken from both the United States and Canada helped the UK on the road to recovery.
The immediate postwar years saw the establishment of the Welfare State, including comprehensive public health services. As a result of a shortage of workers, initial postwar policy was to bring in workers from Germany, Poland and throughout Europe. However, the Colonial office persuaded the British Government that it should offer employment to British subjects of the Commonwealth, creating a multiethnic Britain. Although the new postwar limits of Britain's political role were confirmed by the Suez Crisis of 1956, the international spread of the English language meant the continuing influence of its literature and culture, while from the 1960s its popular culture also found influence abroad. Following a period of global economic slowdown and industrial strife in the 1970s, 1984 saw the inflow of substantial North Sea oil revenues and economic growth.
Inequalities between the Protestant and Catholic groups in Northern Ireland, combined with fears among unionists of the claim by the Republic of Ireland to the whole island, led to a breakout of violence in 1966. Paramilitary groups were created by both sides, and after riots in Derry in 1969 the British Army was called in to try to maintain peace. On 24 March 1972 the Parliament of Northern Ireland was suspended, and Direct Rule was introduced from London. Eventually, the Anglo-Irish Agreement was signed in November 1985, in which the Republic of Ireland acknowledged the United Kingdom's rule in the North in exchange for some say in governance. Negotiations eventually led to the 1998 Good Friday Agreement between the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland reflecting the terms of a peace settlement supported by most of the main political parties. The Agreement, approved by referendums in both halves of Ireland, created a new Northern Ireland Assembly and a power-sharing executive. The constitution of the Republic was amended to replace a claim it made to the territory of Northern Ireland while also acknowledging the nationalist desire for a united Ireland. The IRA and most other armed organisations ended their activities and destroyed their weaponry.
The United Kingdom was one of the 12 founding members of the European Union at its launch in 1992 with the signing of the Maastricht Treaty. Prior to that, it had been a member of the EU's forerunner, the European Economic Community (EEC), from 1973. The end of the 20th century saw major changes to the governance of the UK with the establishment of devolved national administrations for Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales following pre-legislative referendums.
The total area of the United Kingdom is approximately . It consists of the island of Great Britain, the northeastern one-sixth of the island of Ireland, and smaller surrounding islands. It lies between the North Atlantic Ocean and the North Sea, coming within of the coast of northern France, from which it is separated by the English Channel. As of 1993 10% of the UK was forested, 46% used for pastures, and 25% used for agriculture. The Royal Greenwich Observatory, in London, is the defining point of the Prime Meridian.
The United Kingdom lies between latitudes 49° and 61° N, and longitudes 9° W to 2° E. Northern Ireland shares a land boundary with the Republic of Ireland. The coastline of Great Britain is long. It is connected to continental Europe by the Channel Tunnel, which at ( underwater) is the longest underwater tunnel in the world.
England accounts for just over half of the total area of the UK, covering . Most of the country consists of lowland terrain, with mountainous terrain north-west of the Tees-Exe line including the Cumbrian Mountains of the Lake District, the Pennines and limestone hills of the Peak District, Exmoor and Dartmoor. The main rivers and estuaries are the Thames, Severn and the Humber. England's highest mountain is Scafell Pike (), which is in the Lake District. Its principal rivers are the Severn, Thames, Humber, Tees, Tyne, Tweed, Avon, Exe and Mersey.
Scotland accounts for just under a third of the total area of the UK, covering , including nearly eight hundred islands, predominantly west and north of the mainland, notably the Hebrides, Orkney Islands and Shetland Islands. The topography of Scotland 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 faultline 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 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, its capital and political centre.
Wales accounts for less than a tenth of the total area of the UK, covering . 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 is the highest peak in Wales. The 14 (or possibly 15) Welsh mountains over 3,000 feet (914 m) high are known collectively as the Welsh 3000s. Wales has over 1,200 km (750 miles) of coastline. There are several islands off the Welsh mainland, the largest of which is Anglesey (Ynys Môn) in the northwest.
Northern Ireland accounts for just and is mostly hilly. It includes Lough Neagh, at , the largest body of water in the UK and Ireland. The highest peak in Northern Ireland is Slieve Donard at in the Mourne Mountains.
The United Kingdom has a temperate climate, with plentiful rainfall all year round. The temperature varies with the seasons but seldom drops below or rises above . The prevailing wind is from the southwest, bearing frequent spells of mild and wet weather from the Atlantic Ocean. Eastern parts are most sheltered from this wind and are therefore the driest. Atlantic currents, warmed by the Gulf Stream, bring mild winters, especially in the west, where winters are wet, especially over high ground. Summers are warmest in the south east of England, being closest to the European mainland, and coolest in the north. Snowfall can occur in winter and early spring, though it rarely settles to great depth away from high ground.