United Kingdom

United Kingdom
This article is about the modern sovereign state. For was the largest empire in history. British influence can
the island, see Great Britain. For other uses, see United be observed in the language, culture, and legal systems of
Kingdom (disambiguation) and UK (disambiguation).
many of its former colonies.
The United Kingdom is a developed country and has the
world’s sixth-largest economy by nominal GDP and either
eighth, ninth or tenth-largest by purchasing power parity. The UK is considered to have a high-income economy and is categorised as very high in the Human Development Index, currently ranking 14th in the world.
It was the world’s first industrialised country and the
world’s foremost power during the 19th and early 20th
centuries.[18][19] The UK remains a great power with considerable economic, cultural, military, scientific, and political influence internationally.[20][21] It is a recognised
nuclear weapons state and its military expenditure ranks
fifth or sixth in the world.[22][23] The UK has been a
permanent member of the United Nations Security Council since its first session in 1946. It has been a member
state of the European Union (EU) and its predecessor,
the European Economic Community (EEC), since 1973;
it is also a member of the Commonwealth of Nations,
the Council of Europe, the G7, the G8, the G20, NATO,
the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), and the World Trade Organization
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, commonly known as the United Kingdom
(UK) or Britain, is a sovereign state in Europe. Lying
off the north-western coast of the European mainland, the
country includes the island of Great Britain—a term also
applied loosely to refer to the whole country—the northeastern part of the island of Ireland and many smaller
islands.[8] Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK that
shares a land border with another state (the Republic of
Ireland).[nb 5] Apart from this land border, the UK is surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean to its west and north, the
North Sea to its east and the English Channel to its south.
The Irish Sea lies between Great Britain and Ireland. The
UK has an area of 93,800 square miles (243,000 km2 ),
making it the 80th-largest sovereign state in the world and
the 11th-largest in Europe.
The United Kingdom is the 22nd-most populous country, with an estimated 64.1 million inhabitants.[3] It is
a constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary system
of governance.[9][10] Its capital city is London, an important global city and financial centre with an urban
population of 10,310,000, the fourth-largest in Europe
and second-largest in the European Union.[11] The current monarch—since 6 February 1952—is Queen Elizabeth II. The UK consists of four countries: England,
Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland.[12] The latter
three have devolved administrations,[13] each with varying powers,[14][15] based in their capitals, Edinburgh,
Cardiff, and Belfast, respectively. Guernsey, Jersey, and
the Isle of Man are not part of the United Kingdom, being Crown dependencies with the British Government responsible for defence and international representation.[16]
1 Etymology and terminology
See also: Britain (placename) and Terminology of the
British Isles
The 1707 Acts of Union declared that the kingdoms of
England and Scotland were “United into One Kingdom
by the Name of Great Britain", though the new state is
also referred to in the Acts as the “Kingdom of Great
Britain”, “United Kingdom of Great Britain” and “United
Kingdom”.[24][25][nb 7] However, the term “united kingdom” is only found in informal use during the 18th century and the country was only occasionally referred to
as the “United Kingdom of Great Britain” — its full
official name, from 1707 to 1800, being merely Great
Britain, without a “long form”.[26][27][28][29][30] The Acts
of Union 1800 united the Kingdom of Great Britain and
the Kingdom of Ireland in 1801, forming the United
Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. The name “United
Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland” was
adopted following the independence of the Irish Free
State, and the partition of Ireland, in 1922, which left
The relationships among the countries of the United
Kingdom have changed over time. Wales was annexed
by the Kingdom of England under the Acts of Union of
1536 and 1543. A treaty between England and Scotland
resulted in 1707 in a unified Kingdom of Great Britain,
which merged in 1801 with the Kingdom of Ireland to
form the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland.
In 1922, five-sixths of Ireland seceded from the country,
leaving the present formulation of the United Kingdom
of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.[nb 6] The UK has
fourteen Overseas Territories.[17] These are the remnants
of the British Empire which, at its height in the 1920s, encompassed almost a quarter of the world’s land mass and
Northern Ireland as the only part of the island of Ireland 2.1 Before 1707
within the UK.[31]
Although the United Kingdom, as a sovereign state, is Main articles: History of England, History of Wales,
a country, England, Scotland, Wales, and to a lesser History of Scotland, History of Ireland and History of
degree, Northern Ireland, are also regarded as coun- the formation of the United Kingdom
tries, though they are not sovereign states.[32][33] Scot- Settlement by anatomically modern humans of what was
land, Wales and Northern Ireland have devolved selfgovernment.[34][35] The British Prime Minister’s website
has used the phrase “countries within a country” to describe the United Kingdom.[12] Some statistical summaries, such as those for the twelve NUTS 1 regions of
the UK, also refer to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland as “regions”.[36][37] Northern Ireland is also referred
to as a “province”.[32][38] With regard to Northern Ireland,
the descriptive name used “can be controversial, with the
choice often revealing one’s political preferences.”[39]
The term Britain is often used as synonym for the United
Kingdom. The term Great Britain, by contrast, refers conventionally to the island of Great Britain, or politically
to England, Scotland and Wales in combination.[40][41][42]
However, it is sometimes used as a loose synonym for the
United Kingdom as a whole.[43][44] GB and GBR are the
standard country codes for the United Kingdom (see ISO
3166-2 and ISO 3166-1 alpha-3) and are consequently
used by international organisations to refer to the United
Kingdom. Additionally, the United Kingdom’s Olympic
team competes under the name “Great Britain” or “Team
The adjective British is commonly used to refer to matters
relating to the United Kingdom. The term has no definite
legal connotation, but is used in law to refer to UK citizenship and matters to do with nationality.[47] People of the
United Kingdom use a number of different terms to describe their national identity and may identify themselves
as being British; or as being English, Scottish, Welsh,
Northern Irish, or Irish;[48] or as being both.[49]
In 2006, a new design of British passport was introduced.
Its first page shows the long form name of the state in
English, Welsh and Scottish Gaelic.[50] In Welsh, the long
form name of the state is “Teyrnas Unedig Prydain Fawr a
Gogledd Iwerddon” with “Teyrnas Unedig” being used as
a short form name on government websites.[51] (However
it is usually abbreviated to “DU” for the mutated form
“Y Deyrnas Unedig”.) In Scottish Gaelic, the long form
is “Rìoghachd Aonaichte Bhreatainn is Èireann a Tuath”
and the short form “Rìoghachd Aonaichte”.
Stonehenge, in Wiltshire, was erected around 2500 BC.
to become the United Kingdom occurred in waves beginning by about 30,000 years ago.[52] 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 Brythonic Britain and Gaelic Ireland.[53] 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 Brythonic area mainly to what was to become Wales
and the historic Kingdom of Strathclyde.[54] Most of the
region settled by the Anglo-Saxons became unified as the
Kingdom of England in the 10th century.[55] Meanwhile,
Gaelic-speakers in north west Britain (with connections
to the north-east of Ireland and traditionally supposed to
have migrated from there in the 5th century)[56][57] united
with the Picts to create the Kingdom of Scotland in the
9th century.[58]
See also: History of the British Isles
The Bayeux Tapestry depicts the Battle of Hastings, 1066, and
the events leading to it.
Since the Acts of Union of 1707
In 1066, the Normans invaded England from France and
after its conquest, 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.[59] The
Norman elites greatly influenced, but eventually assimilated with, each of the local cultures.[60] Subsequent
medieval English kings completed the conquest of Wales
and made an unsuccessful attempt to annex Scotland.
Following the Declaration of Arbroath, Scotland maintained its independence, 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.[61]
The early modern period saw religious conflict resulting
from the Reformation and the introduction of Protestant
state churches in each country.[62] Wales was fully incorporated into the Kingdom of England,[63] and Ireland
was constituted as a kingdom in personal union with the
English crown.[64] 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.[65]
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
ularly 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
2.2 Since the Acts of Union of 1707
Main article: History of the United Kingdom
On 1 May 1707, the united Kingdom of Great Britain
The Treaty of Union led to a single united kingdom encompassing
all Great Britain.
came into being, the result of Acts of Union being
passed by the parliaments of England and Scotland to
ratify the 1706 Treaty of Union and so unite the two
In the 18th century, cabinet government developed under Robert Walpole, in practice the first prime minister
(1721–1742). A series of Jacobite Uprisings sought to
remove the Protestant House of Hanover from the British
throne and restore the Catholic House of Stuart. The Jacobites were finally defeated at the Battle of Culloden in
1746, after which the Scottish Highlanders were brutally
suppressed. The British colonies in North America that
Although the monarchy was restored, it ensured (with the
broke away from Britain in the American War of IndeGlorious Revolution of 1688 and the subsequent Bill of
pendence became the United States of America in 1783.
Rights 1689, and the Claim of Right Act 1689) that, unBritish imperial ambition turned elsewhere, particularly
like much of the rest of Europe, royal absolutism would
to India.[78]
not prevail, and a professed Catholic could never accede to the throne. The British constitution would de- During the 18th century, Britain was involved in the
velop on the basis of constitutional monarchy and the Atlantic slave trade. British ships transported an estiparliamentary system.[70] With the constitutional rights of mated 2 million slaves from Africa to the West Indies beParliament legally established, no monarch has since en- fore banning the trade in 1807 and taking a leading role
tered the House of Commons when it is sitting meeting, in the movement to abolish slavery worldwide by pressing
which is annually commemorated at the State Opening other nations to end their trade with a series of treaties,
of Parliament by the British monarch when the doors and then formed the world’s oldest international human
of the House of Commons are slammed in the face of rights organisation, Anti-Slavery International, in London
The term 'United Kingdom' became
the monarch’s messenger, symbolising the rights of Par- in 1839.
official in 1801 when the parliaments of Britain and Ireliament and its independence from the monarch.
With the founding of the Royal Society in 1660, sci- land each passed an Act of Union, uniting the two kingence was greatly encouraged. During this period, partic- doms and creating the United Kingdom of Great Britain
and Ireland.[82]
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 and the establishment of the short-lived
unitary republic of the Commonwealth of England, Scotland and Ireland.[68][69]
In the early 19th century, the British-led Industrial Revolution began to transform the country. It slowly led to a
shift in political power away from the old Tory and Whig
landowning classes towards the new industrialists. An
alliance of merchants and industrialists with the Whigs
would lead to a new party, the Liberals, with an ideology
of free trade and laissez-faire. In 1832 Parliament passed
the Great Reform Act, which began the transfer of political power from the aristocracy to the middle classes. In
the countryside, enclosure of the land was driving small
farmers out. Towns and cities began to swell with a new
urban working class. Few ordinary workers had the vote,
and they created their own organisations in the form of
trade unions.
Infantry of the Royal Irish Rifles during the Battle of the Somme.
More than 885,000 British soldiers died on the battlefields of
World War I.
US, against Germany and its allies in World War I (1914–
18).[91] The UK armed forces were engaged across much
of the British Empire and in several regions of Europe,
particularly on the Western front.[92] The high fatalities
of trench warfare caused the loss of much of a generation
of men, with lasting social effects in the nation and a great
The Battle of Waterloo marked the end of the Napoleonic Wars disruption in the social order.
and the start of Pax Britannica.
After the defeat of France in the Revolutionary and
Napoleonic Wars (1792–1815), the UK emerged as the
principal naval and imperial power of the 19th century
(with London the largest city in the world from about
1830).[83] Unchallenged at sea, British dominance was
later described as Pax Britannica.[84][85] By the time of
the Great Exhibition of 1851, Britain was described as
the “workshop of the world”.[86] The British Empire was
expanded to include India, large parts of Africa and many
other territories throughout the world. Alongside the
formal control it exerted over its own colonies, British
dominance of much of world trade meant that it effectively controlled the economies of many countries, such
as China, Argentina and Siam.[87][88] Domestically, political attitudes favoured free trade and laissez-faire policies
and a gradual widening of the voting franchise. During
the century, the population increased at a dramatic rate,
accompanied by rapid urbanisation, causing significant
social and economic stresses.[89] After 1875, the UK’s
industrial monopoly was challenged by Germany and the
USA. To seek new markets and sources of raw materials, the Conservative Party under Disraeli launched a period of imperialist expansion in Egypt, South Africa and
elsewhere. Canada, Australia and New Zealand became
self-governing dominions.[90]
Social reform and home rule for Ireland were important
domestic issues after 1900. The Labour Party emerged
from an alliance of trade unions and small Socialist
groups in 1900, and suffragettes campaigned for women’s
right to vote before 1914.
The UK fought with France, Russia and (after 1917) the
After the war, the UK received the League of Nations
mandate over a number of former German and Ottoman
colonies. The British Empire reached its greatest extent,
covering a fifth of the world’s land surface and a quarter of its population.[93] However, the UK had suffered
2.5 million casualties and finished the war with a huge
national debt.[92] The rise of Irish Nationalism and disputes within Ireland over the terms of Irish Home Rule
led eventually to the partition of the island in 1921,[94] and
the Irish Free State became independent with Dominion
status in 1922. Northern Ireland remained part of the
United Kingdom.[95] A wave of strikes in the mid-1920s
culminated in the UK General Strike of 1926. The UK
had still not recovered from the effects of the war when
the Great Depression (1929–32) occurred. This led to
considerable unemployment and hardship in the old industrial areas, as well as political and social unrest in the
1930s. A coalition government was formed in 1931.[96]
The UK entered World War II by declaring war on
Germany in 1939, after it had invaded Poland and
Czechoslovakia. In 1940, Winston Churchill became
prime minister and head of a coalition government. Despite the defeat of its European allies in the first year of
the war, the UK continued the fight alone against Germany. In 1940, the RAF defeated the German Luftwaffe
in a struggle for control of the skies in the Battle of
Britain. The UK suffered heavy bombing during the
Blitz. There were also eventual hard-fought victories in
the Battle of the Atlantic, the North Africa campaign and
Burma campaign. UK forces played an important role in
the Normandy landings of 1944, achieved with its ally the
US. After Germany’s defeat, the UK was one of the Big
Three powers who met to plan the post-war world; it was
an original signatory to the Declaration of the United Nations. The UK became one of the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council. However,
the war left the UK severely weakened and depending
financially on Marshall Aid and loans from the United
After having its membership twice vetoed by France in 1961 and
1967, the UK entered the European Economic Community in
1973. In a referendum held in 1975, 67% of voters voted to
remain in the EEC.[103]
Territories that were at one time part of the British Empire.
Names of current British Overseas Territories are underlined in
In the immediate post-war years, the Labour government initiated a radical programme of reforms, which
had a significant effect on British society in the following decades.[98] Major industries and public utilities were nationalised, a Welfare State was established,
and a comprehensive, publicly funded healthcare system,
the National Health Service, was created.[99] The rise
of nationalism in the colonies coincided with Britain’s
now much-diminished economic position, so that a policy of decolonisation was unavoidable. Independence
was granted to India and Pakistan in 1947.[100] Over the
next three decades, most colonies of the British Empire
gained their independence. Many became members of
the Commonwealth of Nations.[101]
Following a period of widespread economic slowdown
and industrial strife in the 1970s, the Conservative
Government of the 1980s initiated a radical policy of
monetarism, deregulation, particularly of the financial
sector (for example, Big Bang in 1986) and labour markets, the sale of state-owned companies (privatisation),
and the withdrawal of subsidies to others.[107] This resulted in high unemployment and social unrest, but ultimately also economic growth, particularly in the services
sector. From 1984, the economy was helped by the inflow
of substantial North Sea oil revenues.[108]
Around the end of the 20th century there were major
changes to the governance of the UK with the establishment of devolved administrations for Scotland, Wales and
Northern Ireland.[13][109] The statutory incorporation followed acceptance of the European Convention on Human Rights. The UK is still a key global player diplomatically and militarily. It plays leading roles in the EU,
Although the UK was the third country to develop a nu- UN and NATO. However, controversy surrounds some
clear weapons arsenal (with its first atomic bomb test of Britain’s overseas military deployments, particularly in
in 1952), the new post-war limits of Britain’s interna- Afghanistan and Iraq.[110]
tional role were illustrated by the Suez Crisis of 1956.
The 2008 global financial crisis severely affected the UK
The international spread of the English language ensured
economy. The coalition government of 2010 introduced
the continuing international influence of its literature and
austerity measures intended to tackle the substantial pubculture. From the 1960s onward, its popular culture
lic deficits which resulted.[111] In 2014 the Scottish Govwas also influential abroad. As a result of a shortage
ernment held a referendum on Scottish independence,
of workers in the 1950s, the UK government encourwith 55% of voters rejecting the independence proposal
aged immigration from Commonwealth countries. In
and opting to remain within the United Kingdom.[112]
the following decades, the UK became a multi-ethnic
society.[102] Despite rising living standards in the late
1950s and 1960s, the UK’s economic performance was
not as successful as many of its competitors, such as 3 Geography
West Germany and Japan. In 1973, the UK joined the
European Economic Community (EEC), and when the Main article: Geography of the United Kingdom
EEC became the European Union (EU) in 1992, it was
The total area of the United Kingdom is approxione of the 12 founding members.
mately 243,610 square kilometres (94,060 sq mi). The
From the late 1960s, Northern Ireland suffered communal and paramilitary violence (sometimes affecting other
parts of the UK) conventionally known as the Troubles.
It is usually considered to have ended with the Belfast
“Good Friday” Agreement of 1998.[104][105][106]
country occupies the major part of the British Isles[113]
archipelago and includes the island of Great Britain, the
northeastern 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 south-east coast
Scotland accounts for just under a third of the total area
of the UK, covering 78,772 square kilometres (30,410 sq
mi)[120] and including nearly eight hundred islands,[121]
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.[122] 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
1,343 metres (4,406 ft) is the highest point in the British
Isles.[123] 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.
The topography of the UK
coming within 22 miles (35 km) of the coast of northern
France, from which it is separated by the English Channel.[114] In 1993 10% of the UK was forested, 46% used Ben Nevis, in Scotland, is the highest point in the British Isles
for pastures and 25% cultivated for agriculture.[115] The
Royal Greenwich Observatory in London is the defining Wales accounts for less than a tenth of the total area
point of the Prime Meridian.[116]
of the UK, covering 20,779 square kilometres (8,020
The United Kingdom lies between latitudes 49° to 61° sq mi).[124] Wales is mostly mountainous, though South
N, and longitudes 9° W to 2° E. Northern Ireland shares Wales is less mountainous than North and mid Wales.
a 224-mile (360 km) land boundary with the Republic The main population and industrial areas are in South
of Ireland.[114] The coastline of Great Britain is 11,073 Wales, consisting of the coastal cities of Cardiff, Swansea
miles (17,820 km) long.[117] It is connected to continental and Newport, and the South Wales Valleys to their north.
Europe by the Channel Tunnel, which at 31 miles (50 km) The highest mountains in Wales are in Snowdonia and in(24 miles (38 km) underwater) is the longest underwater clude Snowdon (Welsh: Yr Wyddfa) which, at 1,085 metunnel in the world.[118]
tres (3,560 ft), is the highest peak in Wales.[115] The 14,
England accounts for just over half of the total area or possibly 15, Welsh mountains over 3,000 feet (914 m)
of the UK, covering 130,395 square kilometres (50,350 high are known collectively as the Welsh 3000s. Wales
sq mi).[119] Most of the country consists of lowland has over 2,704 kilometres (1,680 miles) of coastline.
terrain,[115] with mountainous terrain north-west of the Several islands lie off the Welsh mainland, the largest of
Tees-Exe line; including the Cumbrian Mountains of the which is Anglesey (Ynys Môn) in the northwest.
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 (978 metres
(3,209 ft)) in the Lake District. Its principal rivers are
the Severn, Thames, Humber, Tees, Tyne, Tweed, Avon,
Exe and Mersey.[115]
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 kilometres (150 sq
mi), is the largest lake in the British Isles by area.[125] The
highest peak in Northern Ireland is Slieve Donard in the
Mourne Mountains at 852 metres (2,795 ft).[115]
Administrative divisions
Main article: Climate of the United Kingdom
The United Kingdom has a temperate climate, with plentiful rainfall all year round.[114] The temperature varies
with the seasons seldom dropping below −11 °C (12 °F)
or rising above 35 °C (95 °F).[126] The prevailing wind is
from the south-west and bears frequent spells of mild and
wet weather from the Atlantic Ocean,[114] although the
eastern parts are mostly sheltered from this wind since
the majority of the rain falls over the western regions the
eastern parts are therefore the driest. Atlantic currents,
warmed by the Gulf Stream, bring mild winters;[127] especially in the west where winters are wet and even more
so over high ground. Summers are warmest in the southeast of England, being closest to the European mainland,
and coolest in the north. Heavy snowfall can occur in
winter and early spring on high ground, and occasionally
settles to great depth away from the hills.
Northern Ireland
The four countries of the United Kingdom.
Each country of the United Kingdom has its own system
of administrative and geographic demarcation, whose
origins often pre-date the formation of the United Kingdom. Thus there is “no common stratum of administra3.2 Administrative divisions
tive unit encompassing the United Kingdom”.[128] Until
Main article: Administrative geography of the United the 19th century there was little change to those arrangements, but there has since been a constant evolution of
role and function.[129] Change did not occur in a uniform
manner and the devolution of power over local government to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland means that
future changes are also unlikely to be uniform.
Atlantic Ocean
North Sea
Celtic Sea
The organisation of local government in England is complex, with the distribution of functions varying according to local arrangements. Legislation concerning local government in England is the responsibility of the
UK parliament and the Government of the United Kingdom, as England has no devolved parliament. The uppertier subdivisions of England are the nine Government
office regions or European Union government office
regions.[130] One region, Greater London, has had a directly elected assembly and mayor since 2000 following
popular support for the proposal in a referendum.[131] It
was intended that other regions would also be given their
own elected regional assemblies, but a proposed assembly
in the North East region was rejected by a referendum in
2004.[132] Below the regional tier, some parts of England
have county councils and district councils and others have
unitary authorities; while London consists of 32 London
boroughs and the City of London. Councillors are elected
by the first-past-the-post system in single-member wards
or by the multi-member plurality system in multi-member
For local government purposes, Scotland is divided into
32 council areas, with wide variation in both size and
population. The cities of Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen
and Dundee are separate council areas, as is the Highland
Council which includes a third of Scotland’s area but
only just over 200,000 people. Local councils are made
up of elected councillors, of whom there are currently
1,223;[134] they are paid a part-time salary. Elections are
conducted by single transferable vote in multi-member
wards that elect either three or four councillors. Each
council elects a Provost, or Convenor, to chair meetings
of the council and to act as a figurehead for the area.
Councillors are subject to a code of conduct enforced by
the Standards Commission for Scotland.[135] The representative association of Scotland’s local authorities is the
Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA).[136]
Local government in Wales consists of 22 unitary authorities. These include the cities of Cardiff, Swansea
and Newport which are unitary authorities in their own
right.[137] Elections are held every four years under the
first-past-the-post system.[137] The most recent elections
were held in May 2012, except for the Isle of Anglesey.
The Welsh Local Government Association represents the
interests of local authorities in Wales.[138]
Local government in Northern Ireland has since 1973
been organised into 26 district councils, each elected by
single transferable vote. Their powers are limited to services such as collecting waste, controlling dogs and maintaining parks and cemeteries.[139] On 13 March 2008 the
executive agreed on proposals to create 11 new councils
and replace the present system.[140] The next local elections were postponed until 2016 to facilitate this.[141]
Indian Ocean Territory; the British Virgin Islands;
the Cayman Islands; the Falkland Islands; Gibraltar;
Montserrat; Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da
Cunha; the Turks and Caicos Islands; the Pitcairn Islands; South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands;
and Sovereign Base Areas on Cyprus.[145] British claims
in Antarctica are not universally recognised.[146] Collectively Britain’s overseas territories encompass an approximate land area of 1,727,570 square kilometres
(667,018 sq mi) and a population of approximately
260,000 people.[147] They are the remnants of the British
Empire and several have specifically voted to remain
British territories (Bermuda in 1995, Gibraltar in 2002
and the Falkland Islands in 2013).[148]
The Crown dependencies are possessions of the Crown,
as opposed to overseas territories of the UK.[149] They
comprise three independently administered jurisdictions:
the Channel Islands of Jersey and Guernsey in the English
Channel, and the Isle of Man in the Irish Sea. By mutual
agreement, the British Government manages the islands’
foreign affairs and defence and the UK Parliament has
the authority to legislate on their behalf. However, internationally, they are regarded as “territories for which
the United Kingdom is responsible”.[150] The power to
pass legislation affecting the islands ultimately rests with
their own respective legislative assemblies, with the assent of the Crown (Privy Council or, in the case of the
Isle of Man, in certain circumstances the LieutenantGovernor).[151] Since 2005 each Crown dependency has
had a Chief Minister as its head of government.[152]
Main articles: British Overseas Territories, Crown dependencies and British Islands
The United Kingdom has sovereignty over seventeen ter-
5 Politics
A view of the Caribbean Sea from the Cayman Islands, one of the
world’s foremost international financial centres[142] and tourist
ritories which do not form part of the United Kingdom
itself: fourteen British Overseas Territories[17] and three
Crown dependencies.[17][144]
The fourteen British Overseas Territories are: Anguilla;
Bermuda; the British Antarctic Territory; the British
Main articles: Politics of the United Kingdom, Monarchy
of the United Kingdom and Elections in the United Kingdom
The United Kingdom is a unitary state under a
constitutional monarchy. Queen Elizabeth II is the head
of state of the UK as well as monarch of fifteen other independent Commonwealth countries. The monarch has
“the right to be consulted, the right to encourage, and the
right to warn”.[153] The United Kingdom is one of only
four countries in the world to have an uncodified constitution.[154][nb 8] The Constitution of the United Kingdom
thus consists mostly of a collection of disparate written
sources, including statutes, judge-made case law and international treaties, together with constitutional conventions. As there is no technical difference between ordinary statutes and “constitutional law”, 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. However, no Parliament can
pass laws that future Parliaments cannot change.[155]
Devolved administrations
The Palace of Westminster, seat of both houses of the Parliament
of the United Kingdom
The current Prime Minister is David Cameron, who has
been in office since 11 May 2010.[158] Cameron is the
leader of the Conservative Party and heads a coalition
with the Liberal Democrats. For elections to the House
of Commons, the UK is currently divided into 650 constituencies,[159] each electing a single member of parliament (MP) by simple plurality. General elections are
called by the monarch when the prime minister so advises. The Parliament Acts 1911 and 1949 require that a
new election must be called no later than five years after
the previous general election.[160]
Elizabeth II is Queen of the United Kingdom and each of the other
Commonwealth realms.
Main article: Government of the United Kingdom
The UK has a parliamentary government based on the
Westminster system that has been emulated around the
world: a legacy of the British Empire. The parliament of
the United Kingdom meets in the Palace of Westminster
and has two houses: an elected House of Commons and
an appointed House of Lords. All bills passed are given
Royal Assent before becoming law.
The position of prime minister,[nb 9] the UK’s head of
government,[156] belongs to the person most likely to
command the confidence of the House of Commons; this
individual is typically the leader of the political party
or coalition of parties that holds the largest number of
seats in that chamber. The prime minister chooses a
cabinet and its members are formally appointed by the
monarch to form Her Majesty’s Government. By convention, the Queen respects the prime minister’s decisions of
The cabinet is traditionally drawn from members of the
prime minister’s party or coalition and mostly from the
House of Commons but always from both legislative
houses, the cabinet being responsible to both. Executive power is exercised by the prime minister and cabinet, all of whom are sworn into the Privy Council of the
United Kingdom, and become Ministers of the Crown.
The UK’s three major political parties are currently the
Conservative Party (Tories), the Labour Party and the
Liberal Democrats, representing the British traditions
of conservatism, socialism and social liberalism, respectively. At the 2010 general election these three parties together won 622 out of 650 seats in the House of
Commons.[161][162] Most of the remaining seats were won
by parties that contest elections only in one part of the
UK: the Scottish National Party (Scotland only); Plaid
Cymru (Wales only); and the Alliance Party, Democratic
Unionist Party, Social Democratic and Labour Party and
Sinn Féin (Northern Ireland only[nb 10] ). In accordance
with party policy, no elected Sinn Féin members of parliament have ever attended the House of Commons to
speak on behalf of their constituents because of the requirement to take an oath of allegiance to the monarch.
5.2 Devolved administrations
Main articles: Devolution in the United Kingdom,
Northern Ireland Executive, Scottish Government and
Welsh Government
Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland each have their
own government or executive, led by a First Minister (or,
in the case of Northern Ireland, a diarchal First Minister and deputy First Minister), and a devolved unicameral
legislature. England, the largest country of the United
Kingdom, has no such devolved executive or legislature
and is administered and legislated for directly by the UK
government and parliament on all issues. This situation has given rise to the so-called West Lothian question which concerns the fact that members of parliament from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland can
vote, sometimes decisively,[163] on matters that only affect England.[164] The McKay Commission reported on
Deputy First Minister and First Minister for Northern Ireland,
Martin McGuinness and Ian Paisley, with First Minister of Scotland, Alex Salmond, signing a Joint Agreement between the two
countries in 2008.
The Scottish Parliament Building in Holyrood is the seat of the
Scottish Parliament.
this matter in March 2013 recommending that laws affecting only England should need support from a majority
of English members of parliament.[165]
The Scottish Government and Parliament have wideranging powers over any matter that has not been specifically reserved to the UK parliament, including education,
healthcare, Scots law and local government.[166] At the
2011 elections the Scottish National Party won reelection and achieved an overall majority in the Scottish
parliament, with its leader, Alex Salmond, as First Minister of Scotland.[167][168] In 2012, the UK and Scottish
governments signed the Edinburgh Agreement setting out
the terms for a referendum on Scottish independence in
2014, which was defeated 55% to 45%.
assumes the responsibilities of the Northern Ireland administration in the event of its non-operation.
The UK does not have a codified constitution and constitutional matters are not among the powers devolved
to Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland. Under the
doctrine of parliamentary sovereignty, the UK Parliament could, in theory, therefore, abolish the Scottish Parliament, Welsh Assembly or Northern Ireland
Assembly.[172][173] Indeed, in 1972, the UK Parliament
unilaterally prorogued the Parliament of Northern Ireland, setting a precedent relevant to contemporary devolved institutions.[174] In practice, it would be politically difficult for the UK Parliament to abolish devolution to the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly, given the political entrenchment created by referendum decisions.[175] The political constraints placed upon
the UK Parliament’s power to interfere with devolution
in Northern Ireland are even greater than in relation to
Scotland and Wales, given that devolution in Northern
Ireland rests upon an international agreement with the
Government of Ireland.[176]
The Welsh Government and the National Assembly for
Wales have more limited powers than those devolved to
Scotland.[169] The Assembly is able to legislate on devolved matters through Acts of the Assembly, which require no prior consent from Westminster. The 2011 elec- 5.3 Law and criminal justice
tions resulted in a minority Labour administration led by
Carwyn Jones.[170]
Main article: Law of the United Kingdom
The Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly have pow- The United Kingdom does not have a single legal system,
ers similar to those devolved to Scotland. The Executive as Article 19 of the 1706 Treaty of Union provided[177]
is led by a diarchy representing unionist and nationalist
members of the Assembly. Currently, Peter Robinson Today the UK has three distinct systems of law: English
(Democratic Unionist Party) and Martin McGuinness law, Northern Ireland law and Scots law. A new Supreme
(Sinn Féin) are First Minister and deputy First Minister Court of the United Kingdom came into being in October
the Appellate Committee of the House
respectively.[171] Devolution to Northern Ireland is con- 2009 to replace
The Judicial Committee of the Privy
tingent on participation by the Northern Ireland adminincluding
the same members as the Supreme
istration in the North-South Ministerial Council, where
court of appeal for several indepenthe Northern Ireland Executive cooperates and develops
countries, the British Overseas Terjoint and shared policies with the Government of Ireritories
land. The British and Irish governments co-operate on
non-devolved matters affecting Northern Ireland through Both English law, which applies in England and Wales,
the British–Irish Intergovernmental Conference, which and Northern Ireland law are based on common-law
Foreign relations
The Royal Courts of Justice of England and Wales
principles.[181] The essence of common law is that, subject to statute, the law is developed by judges in courts,
applying statute, precedent and common sense to the facts
before them to give explanatory judgements of the relevant legal principles, which are reported and binding
in future similar cases (stare decisis).[182] The courts of
England and Wales are headed by the Senior Courts 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). The Supreme Court is the
highest court in the land for both criminal and civil appeal cases in England, Wales and Northern Ireland and
any decision it makes is binding on every other court in
the same jurisdiction, often having a persuasive effect in
other jurisdictions.[183]
Scots law is a hybrid system based on both common-law
and civil-law principles. The chief courts are the Court
of Session, for civil cases,[184] and the High Court of Justiciary, for criminal cases.[185] The Supreme Court of
the United Kingdom serves as the highest court of appeal for civil cases under Scots law.[186] Sheriff courts
deal with most civil and criminal cases including conducting criminal trials with a jury, known as sheriff solemn
court, or with a sheriff and no jury, known as sheriff summary Court.[187] The Scots legal system is unique in having three possible verdicts for a criminal trial: "guilty",
"not guilty" and "not proven". Both “not guilty” and “not
proven” result in an acquittal.[188]
Crime in England and Wales increased in the period between 1981 and 1995, though since that peak there has
been an overall fall of 48% in recorded crime from 1995
to 2007/08,[189] according to crime statistics. The prison
population of England and Wales has almost doubled
over the same period, to over 80,000, giving England and
Wales the highest rate of incarceration in Western Europe
at 147 per 100,000.[190] Her Majesty’s Prison Service,
which reports to the Ministry of Justice, manages most of
the prisons within England and Wales. Crime in Scotland
fell to its lowest recorded level for 32 years in 2009/10,
falling by ten per cent.[191] At the same time Scotland’s
The High Court of Justiciary – the supreme criminal court of
prison population, at over 8,000,[192] is at record levels
and well above design capacity.[193] The Scottish Prison
Service, which reports to the Cabinet Secretary for Justice, manages Scotland’s prisons.
5.4 Foreign relations
Main article: Foreign relations of the United Kingdom
The UK is a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, a member of NATO, the
Commonwealth of Nations, G7, G8, G20, the OECD,
the WTO, the Council of Europe, the OSCE, and is
a member state of the European Union. The UK is
said to have a "Special Relationship" with the United
States and a close partnership with France—the "Entente
cordiale"—and shares nuclear weapons technology with
both countries.[194][195] The UK is also closely linked
with the Republic of Ireland; the two countries share a
Common Travel Area and co-operate through the BritishIrish Intergovernmental Conference and the British-Irish
Council. Britain’s global presence and influence is further amplified through its trading relations, foreign investments, official development assistance and military
emerging victorious from such conflicts, Britain has often been able to decisively influence world events. Since
the end of the British Empire, the UK has nonetheless remained a major military power. Following the end of the
Cold War, defence policy has a stated assumption that
“the most demanding operations” will be undertaken as
part of a coalition.[201] Setting aside the intervention in
Sierra Leone, recent UK military operations in Bosnia,
Kosovo, Afghanistan, Iraq and, most recently, Libya,
have followed this approach. The last time the British
military fought alone was the Falklands War of 1982.
According to various sources, including the Stockholm
International Peace Research Institute and the
International Institute for Strategic Studies, the United
Kingdom has the fifth- or sixth-highest military expenditure in the world. Total defence spending currently
accounts for around 2.4% of total national GDP.[22][23]
6 Economy
Troopers of the Blues and Royals during the 2007 Trooping the
Colour ceremony
Main article: Economy of the United Kingdom
The UK has a partially regulated market economy.[202]
Main article: British Armed Forces
The armed forces of the United Kingdom—officially, Her
Majesty’s Armed Forces—consist of three professional
service branches: the Royal Navy and Royal Marines
(forming the Naval Service), the British Army and the
Royal Air Force.[197] The forces are managed by the
Ministry of Defence and controlled by the Defence Council, chaired by the Secretary of State for Defence. The
Commander-in-Chief is the British monarch, Elizabeth
II, to whom members of the forces swear an oath of
allegiance.[198] The Armed Forces are charged with protecting the UK and its overseas territories, promoting
the UK’s global security interests and supporting international peacekeeping efforts. They are active and regular
participants in NATO, including the Allied Rapid Reaction Corps, as well as the Five Power Defence Arrangements, RIMPAC and other worldwide coalition operations. Overseas garrisons and facilities are maintained in
Ascension Island, Belize, Brunei, Canada, Cyprus, Diego
Garcia, the Falkland Islands, Germany, Gibraltar, Kenya,
Qatar and Singapore.[199][200]
The British armed forces played a key role in establishing the British Empire as the dominant world power in
the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries. Throughout its
unique history the British forces have seen action in a
number of major wars, such as the Seven Years’ War, the
Napoleonic Wars, the Crimean War, World War I and
World War II—as well as many colonial conflicts. By
The Bank of England – the central bank of the United Kingdom
Based on market exchange rates the UK is today the sixthlargest economy in the world and the third-largest in Europe after Germany and France, having fallen behind
France for the first time in over a decade in 2008.[203]
HM Treasury, led by the Chancellor of the Exchequer,
is responsible for developing and executing the British
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 own notes, subject to retaining enough Bank of England notes in reserve to cover their issue. Pound sterling is the world’s
third-largest reserve currency (after the US Dollar and the
Euro).[204] 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
The UK service sector makes up around 73% of
GDP.[206] London is one of the three “command centres”
of the global economy (alongside New York City and
Tokyo),[207] it is the world’s largest financial centre alongside New York,[208][209][210] and it has the largest city
GDP in Europe.[211] Edinburgh is also one of the largest
financial centres in Europe.[212] Tourism is very important to the British economy and, 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.[213][214] The creative industries accounted for 7%
GVA in 2005 and grew at an average of 6% per annum
between 1997 and 2005.[215]
The Airbus A350 has its wings and engines manufactured in the
The Industrial Revolution started in the UK with an initial concentration on the textile industry,[216] followed by
other heavy industries such as shipbuilding, coal mining
and steelmaking.[217][218] British merchants, shippers and
bankers developed overwhelming advantage over those of
other nations allowing the UK to dominate international
trade in the 19th century.[219][220] As other nations industrialised, 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% of national output in 2003.[221]
The automotive industry is a significant part of the UK
manufacturing sector and employs over 800,000 people,
with a turnover of some £52 billion, generating £26.6 billion of exports.[222]
whilst over a quarter of the value of the Boeing 787 comes
from UK manufacturers including Eaton (fuel subsystem pumps), Messier-Bugatti-Dowty (the landing gear)
and Rolls-Royce (the engines). Other key names include
GKN Aerospace – an expert in metallic and composite
aerostructures that’s involved in almost every civil and
military fixed and rotary wing aircraft in production and
development today.[223][224][225][224][226][225][226]
BAE Systems plays a critical role in some of the world’s
biggest defence aerospace projects. The company makes
large sections of the Typhoon Eurofighter at its subassembly plant in Salmesbury and assembles the aircraft
for the RAF at its Warton Plant, near Preston. It is
also a principal subcontractor on the F35 Joint Strike
Fighter—the world’s largest single defence project—for
which it designs and manufactures a range of components including the aft fuselage, vertical and horizontal
tail and wing tips and fuel system. As well as this it manufactures the Hawk, the world’s most successful jet training aircraft.[226] 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 currently in service
across both the civil and defence sectors. Rolls-Royce is
forecast to have more than 50% of the widebody market share by 2016, ahead of General Electric.[227] Agusta
Westland designs and manufactures complete helicopters
in the UK.[226]
The UK space industry is growing very fast. Worth
£9.1bn in 2011 and employing 29,000 people, it is growing at a rate of some 7.5% annually, according to its umbrella organisation, the UK Space Agency. Government
strategy is for the space industry to be a £40bn business
for the UK by 2030, capturing a 10% share of the $250bn
world market for commercial space technology.[226] On
16 July 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 (after
the United States and Japan).[228][229]
Agriculture is intensive, highly mechanised and efficient
by European standards, producing about 60% of food
needs with less than 1.6% of the labour force (535,000
workers).[230] Around two-thirds of production is devoted
to livestock, one-third to arable crops. Farmers are subsidised by the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy. The
UK retains a significant, though much reduced fishing industry. It is also rich in a number of natural resources including coal, petroleum, natural gas, tin, limestone, iron
ore, salt, clay, chalk, gypsum, lead, silica and an abundance of arable land.
The aerospace industry of the UK is the second- or thirdlargest national aerospace industry in the world depending upon the method of measurement and has an annual
turnover of around £20 billion. The wings for the Airbus
A380 and the A350 XWB are designed and manufacIn the final quarter of 2008 the UK economy offitured at Airbus UK's world-leading Broughton facility,
The City of London is one of the world’s largest financial centres[208][209][210]
cially entered recession for the first time since 1991.[231]
Unemployment increased from 5.2% in May 2008 to
7.6% in May 2009 and by January 2012 the unemployment rate among 18 to 24-year-olds had risen from
11.9% to 22.5%, the highest since current records began
in 1992.[232][233] Total UK government debt rose from
44.4% of GDP in 2007 to 82.9% of GDP in 2011.[234]
In February 2013, the UK lost its top AAA credit rating
for the first time since 1978.[235]
Inflation-adjusted wages in the UK fell by 3.2% be- Charles Darwin (1809–82), whose theory of evolution by natutween the third quarter of 2010 and the third quarter ral selection is the foundation of modern biological sciences.
of 2012.[236] Since the 1980s, economic inequality has
grown faster in the UK than in any other developed
whose theory of evolution by natural selection was fundacountry.[237]
mental to the development of modern biology, and James
The poverty line in the UK is commonly defined as Clerk Maxwell, who formulated classical electromagnetic
being 60% of the median household income.[nb 11] In theory; and more recently Stephen Hawking, who has
2007–2008 13.5 million people, or 22% of the popu- advanced major theories in the fields of cosmology,
lation, lived below this line. This is a higher level of quantum gravity and the investigation of black holes.[247]
relative poverty than all but four other EU members.[238] Major scientific discoveries from the 18th century inIn the same year 4.0 million children, 31% of the total, clude hydrogen by Henry Cavendish;[248] from the 20th
lived in households below the poverty line after hous- century penicillin by Alexander Fleming,[249] and the
ing costs were taken into account. This is a decrease structure of DNA, by Francis Crick and others.[250] Maof 400,000 children since 1998–1999.[239] The UK im- jor engineering projects and applications by people from
ports 40% of its food supplies.[240] The Office for Na- the UK in the 18th century include the steam locomotional Statistics has estimated that in 2011, 14 million tive, developed by Richard Trevithick and Andrew Vipeople were at risk of poverty or social exclusion, and vian;[251] from the 19th century the electric motor by
that one person in 20 (5.1%) was now experiencing “se- Michael Faraday, the incandescent light bulb by Joseph
vere material depression,”[241] up from 3 million people Swan,[252] and the first practical telephone, patented by
in 1977.[242][243]
Alexander Graham Bell;[253] and in the 20th century the
world’s first working television system by John Logie
Baird and others,[254] the jet engine by Frank Whittle,
6.1 Science and technology
the basis of the modern computer by Alan Turing, and
Main article: Science and technology in the United King- the World Wide Web by Tim Berners-Lee.
England and Scotland were leading centres of the
Scientific Revolution from the 17th century[244] and the
United Kingdom led the Industrial Revolution from the
18th century,[216] and has continued to produce scientists and engineers credited with important advances.[245]
Major theorists from the 17th and 18th centuries include Isaac Newton, whose laws of motion and illumination of gravity have been seen as a keystone of modern science;[246] from the 19th century Charles Darwin,
Scientific research and development remains important
in British universities, with many establishing science
parks to facilitate production and co-operation with
industry.[256] Between 2004 and 2008 the UK produced
7% of the world’s scientific research papers and had an
8% share of scientific citations, the third and second highest in the world (after the United States and China, and
the United States, respectively).[257] Scientific journals
produced in the UK include Nature, the British Medical
Journal and The Lancet.[258]
Main article: Transport in the United Kingdom
A radial road network totals 29,145 miles (46,904 km)
An oil platform in the North Sea
Heathrow Terminal 5 building. London Heathrow Airport has
the most international passenger traffic of any airport in the
home to a number of large energy companies, including
two of the six oil and gas "supermajors" – BP and Royal
Dutch Shell – and BG Group.[269][270] In 2011, 40% of
the UK’s electricity was produced by gas, 30% by coal,
19% by nuclear power and 4.2% by wind, hydro, biofuels
and wastes.[271]
of main roads, 2,173 miles (3,497 km) of motorways
and 213,750 miles (344,000 km) of paved roads.[114] The
M25, encircling London, is the largest and busiest bypass
in the world.[261] In 2009 there were a total of 34 million
licensed vehicles in Great Britain.[262]
In 2009, the UK produced 1.5 million barrels per day
The UK has a railway network of 10,072 miles (16,209 (bbl/d) of oil and consumed 1.7 million bbl/d.[272] Prokm) in Great Britain and 189 miles (304 km) in Northern duction is now in decline and the UK has been a net imIreland. Railways in Northern Ireland are operated by NI porter of oil since 2005.[272] In 2010 the UK had around
Railways, a subsidiary of state-owned Translink. In Great 3.1 billion barrels of proven crude oil reserves, the largest
Britain, the British Rail network was privatised between of any EU member state.[272] In 2009, 66.5% of the UK’s
1994 and 1997. Network Rail owns and manages most oil supply was imported.[273]
of the fixed assets (tracks, signals etc.). About 20 pri- In 2009, the UK was the 13th-largest producer of natural
vately owned (and foreign state-owned railways includ- gas in the world and the largest producer in the EU.[274]
ing: Deutsche Bahn; SNCF and Nederlandse Spoorwe- Production is now in decline and the UK has been a net
gen) Train Operating Companies (including state-owned importer of natural gas since 2004.[274] In 2009, half of
East Coast), operate passenger trains and carry over British gas was supplied from imports and this is expected
18,000 passenger trains daily. There are also some 1,000 to increase to at least 75% by 2015, as domestic reserves
freight trains in daily operation.[114] The UK government are depleted.[271]
is to spend £30 billion on a new high-speed railway line,
HS2, to be operational by 2025.[263] Crossrail, under Coal production played a key role in the UK economy
construction in London, Is Europe’s largest construction in the 19th and 20th centuries. In the mid-1970s, 130
million tonnes of coal was being produced annually, not
project with a £15 billion projected cost.[264][265]
falling below 100 million tonnes until the early 1980s.
In the year from October 2009 to September 2010 UK During the 1980s and 1990s the industry was scaled back
airports handled a total of 211.4 million passengers.[266] considerably. In 2011, the UK produced 18.3 million
In that period the three largest airports were London tonnes of coal.[275] In 2005 it had proven recoverable coal
Heathrow Airport (65.6 million passengers), Gatwick reserves of 171 million tons.[275] The UK Coal Authority
Airport (31.5 million passengers) and London Stansted has stated there is a potential to produce between 7 billion
Airport (18.9 million passengers).[266] London Heathrow tonnes and 16 billion tonnes of coal through underground
Airport, located 15 miles (24 km) west of the capital, coal gasification (UCG) or 'fracking',[276] and that, based
has the most international passenger traffic of any air- on current UK coal consumption, such reserves could last
port in the world[259][260] and is the hub for the UK flag between 200 and 400 years.[277] However, environmental
carrier British Airways, as well as for BMI and Virgin and social concerns have been raised over chemicals getAtlantic.[267]
ting into the water table and minor earthquakes damaging
In the late 1990s, nuclear power plants contributed
around 25% of total annual electricity generation in the
Main article: Energy in the United Kingdom
UK, but this has gradually declined as old plants have
In 2006, the UK was the world’s ninth-largest consumer been shut down and ageing-related problems affect plant
of energy and the 15th-largest producer.[268] The UK is availability. In 2012, the UK had 16 reactors normally
generating about 19% of its electricity. All but one of
the reactors will be retired by 2023. Unlike Germany
and Japan, the UK intends to build a new generation of
nuclear plants from about 2018.[271]
Main article: Demographics of the United Kingdom
A census is taken simultaneously in all parts of the UK
0.7%.[282] This compares to 0.3% per year in the period
1991 to 2001 and 0.2% in the decade 1981 to 1991.[283]
The 2011 census also confirmed that the proportion of
the population aged 0–14 has nearly halved (31% in 1911
compared to 18 in 2011) and the proportion of older
people aged 65 and over has more than tripled (from 5
to 16%).[282] It has been estimated that the number of
people aged 100 or over will rise steeply to reach over
626,000 by 2080.[284]
England’s population in 2011 was found to be 53
million.[285] It is one of the most densely populated countries in the world, with 383 people resident per square
kilometre in mid-2003,[286] with a particular concentration in London and the south-east.[287] The 2011 census
put Scotland’s population at 5.3 million,[288] Wales at 3.06
million and Northern Ireland at 1.81 million.[285] In percentage terms England has had the fastest growing population of any country of the UK in the period from 2001
to 2011, with an increase of 7.9%.
In 2012 the average total fertility rate (TFR) across the
UK was 1.92 children per woman.[289] While a rising
birth rate is contributing to current population growth,
it remains considerably below the 'baby boom' peak of
2.95 children per woman in 1964,[290] below the replacement rate of 2.1, but higher than the 2001 record low of
1.63.[289] In 2012, Scotland had the lowest TFR at only
1.67, followed by Wales at 1.88, England at 1.94, and
Northern Ireland at 2.03.[289] In 2011, 47.3% of births in
the UK were to unmarried women.[291] A government figure estimated that there are 3.6 million homosexual people in Britain comprising 6% of the population.[292]
7.1 Ethnic groups
Map of population density in the UK as at the 2011 census.
every ten years.[280] The Office for National Statistics is
responsible for collecting data for England and Wales, the
General Register Office for Scotland and the Northern
Ireland Statistics and Research Agency each being responsible for censuses in their respective countries.[281] In
the 2011 census the total population of the United Kingdom was 63,181,775.[282] It is the third-largest in the European Union, the fifth-largest in the Commonwealth and
the 21st-largest in the world. 2010 was the third successive year in which natural change contributed more
to population growth than net long-term international
migration.[283][283] Between 2001 and 2011 the population increased by an average annual rate of approximately
Main article: Ethnic groups in the United Kingdom
Historically, indigenous British people were thought to
be descended from the various ethnic groups that settled
there before the 11th century: the Celts, Romans, AngloSaxons, Norse and the Normans. Welsh people could be
the oldest ethnic group in the UK.[296] A 2006 genetic
study shows that more than 50% of England’s gene pool
contains Germanic Y chromosomes.[297] Another 2005
genetic analysis indicates that “about 75% of the traceable ancestors of the modern British population had arrived in the British isles by about 6,200 years ago, at the
start of the British Neolithic or Stone Age”, and that the
British broadly share a common ancestry with the Basque
The UK has a history of small-scale non-white immigration, with Liverpool having the oldest Black population
in the country dating back to at least the 1730s during
the period of the African slave trade,[301] and the oldest
Chinese community in Europe, dating to the arrival of
Chinese seamen in the 19th century.[302] In 1950 there
were probably fewer than 20,000 non-white residents in
Britain, almost all born overseas.[303]
increased from 0.4 to 1.4% of the population.[311][312]
There was also considerable growth in the mixed category. In 2001, people in this category accounted for
1.2% of the population;[312] by 2011, the proportion was
Ethnic diversity varies significantly across the UK. 30.4%
of London’s population and 37.4% of Leicester's was estimated to be non-white in 2005,[313][314] whereas less than
5% of the populations of North East England, Wales and
the South West were from ethnic minorities, according
to the 2001 census.[315] In 2011, 26.5% of primary and
22.2% of secondary pupils at state schools in England
were members of an ethnic minority.[316]
7.2 Languages
Main article: Languages of the United Kingdom
The UK’s de facto official language is English.[319][320]
Map showing the percentage of the population who are not white
according to the 2011 census.
Since 1948 substantial immigration from Africa, the
Caribbean and South Asia has been a legacy of ties
forged by the British Empire.[304] Migration from new
EU member states in Central and Eastern Europe since
2004 has resulted in growth in these population groups,
although some of this migration has been temporary.[305]
Since the 1990s, there has been substantial diversification of the immigrant population, with migrants to the
UK coming from a much wider range of countries than
previous waves, which tended to involve larger numbers
of migrants coming from a relatively small number of
Academics have argued that the ethnicity categories employed in British national statistics, which were first introduced in the 1991 census, involve confusion between the
concepts of ethnicity and race.[309][310] In 2011, 87.2% of
the UK population identified themselves as white, meaning 12.8% of the UK population identify themselves as of
one of number of ethnic minority groups.[311] In the 2001
census, this figure was 7.9% of the UK population.[312]
The fastest-growing ethnicity category over the period
from 2001 to 2011 was the other Asian category, which
The English-speaking world. Countries in dark blue have a majority of native speakers; countries where English is an official
but not a majority language are shaded in light blue. English is
one of the official languages of the European Union[317] and the
United Nations[318]
It is estimated that 95% of the UK’s population are
monolingual English speakers.[321] 5.5% of the population are estimated to speak languages brought to the UK
as a result of relatively recent immigration.[321] South
Asian languages, including Bengali, Tamil, Punjabi,
Hindi and Gujarati, are the largest grouping and are spoken by 2.7% of the UK population.[321] According to the
2011 census, Polish has become the second-largest language spoken in England and has 546,000 speakers.[322]
Four Celtic languages are spoken in the UK: Welsh; Irish;
Scottish Gaelic; and Cornish. All are recognised as regional or minority languages, subject to specific measures of protection and promotion under the European
Charter for Regional or Minority Languages[2][323] and
the Framework Convention for the Protection of National
Minorities.[324] In the 2001 Census over a fifth (21%) of
the population of Wales said they could speak Welsh,[325]
an increase from the 1991 Census (18%).[326] In addition it is estimated that about 200,000 Welsh speakers live in England.[327] In the same census in Northern Ireland 167,487 people (10.4%) stated that they
had “some knowledge of Irish” (see Irish language in
Northern Ireland), almost exclusively in the nationalist
(mainly Catholic) population. Over 92,000 people in
Scotland (just under 2% of the population) had some
Gaelic language ability, including 72% of those living in
the Outer Hebrides.[328] The number of schoolchildren
being taught through Welsh, Scottish Gaelic and Irish is
increasing.[329] Among emigrant-descended populations
some Scottish Gaelic is still spoken in Canada (principally
Nova Scotia and Cape Breton Island),[330] and Welsh in
Patagonia, Argentina.[331]
Scots, a language descended from early northern Middle
English, has limited recognition alongside its regional
variant, Ulster Scots in Northern Ireland, without specific
commitments to protection and promotion.[2][332]
change have contributed to the growth of other faiths,
most notably Islam.[337] This has led some commentators to variously describe the UK as a multi-faith,[338]
secularised,[339] or post-Christian society.[340]
In the 2001 census 71.6% of all respondents indicated
that they were Christians, with the next largest faiths
(by number of adherents) being Islam (2.8%), Hinduism
(1.0%), Sikhism (0.6%), Judaism (0.5%), Buddhism
(0.3%) and all other religions (0.3%).[341] 15% of respondents stated that they had no religion, with a further 7%
not stating a religious preference.[342] A Tearfund survey
in 2007 showed only one in ten Britons actually attend
church weekly.[343] Between the 2001 and 2011 census
there was a decrease in the amount of people who identified as Christian by 12%, whilst the percentage of those
reporting no religious affiliation doubled. This contrasted
with growth in the other main religious group categories,
with the number of Muslims increasing by the most substantial margin to a total of about 5%.[344]
It is compulsory for pupils to study a second language up
to the age of 14 in England,[333] and up to age 16 in Scotland. French and German are the two most commonly
taught second languages in England and Scotland. All
pupils in Wales are taught Welsh as a second language up
to age 16, or are taught in Welsh.[334]
The Church of England is the established church in
England.[345] It retains a representation in the UK Parliament and the British monarch is its Supreme Gover7.3 Religion
nor.[346] In Scotland the Presbyterian Church of Scotland
is recognised as the national church. It is not subject
Main article: Religion in the United Kingdom
to state control, and the British monarch is an ordinary
Forms of Christianity have dominated religious life member, required to swear an oath to “maintain and preserve the Protestant Religion and Presbyterian Church
Government” upon his or her accession.[347][348] The (Anglican) Church in Wales was disestablished in 1920 and,
as the (Anglican) Church of Ireland was disestablished
in 1870 before the partition of Ireland, there is no established church in Northern Ireland.[349] Although there are
no UK-wide data in the 2001 census on adherence to individual Christian denominations, it has been estimated
that 62% of Christians are Anglican, 13.5% Catholic,
6% Presbyterian, 3.4% Methodist with small numbers of
other Protestant denominations such as Open Brethren,
and Orthodox churches.[350]
7.4 Migration
Westminster Abbey is used for the coronation of British monarchs
in what is now the United Kingdom for over 1,400
years.[335] Although a majority of citizens still identify
with Christianity in many surveys, regular church attendance has fallen dramatically since the middle of the
20th century,[336] while immigration and demographic
Main article: Immigration to the United Kingdom since
See also: Foreign-born population of the United Kingdom
The United Kingdom has experienced successive waves
of migration. The Great Famine in Ireland, then part of
the United Kingdom, resulted in perhaps a million people
migrating to Great Britain.[351] Unable to return to Poland
at the end of World War II, over 120,000 Polish veterans
remained in the UK permanently.[352] After World War
II, there was significant immigration from the colonies
and newly independent former colonies, partly as a legacy
of empire and partly driven by labour shortages. Many of
these migrants came from the Caribbean and the Indian
subcontinent.[353] In 1841, 0.25% of the population of
England and Wales was born in a foreign country. By
to the UK,[373] the migration becoming temporary and
circular.[374] In 2009, for the first time since enlargement, more nationals of the eight central and eastern European states that had joined the EU in 2004 left the UK
than arrived.[375] In 2011, citizens of the new EU member states made up 13% of the immigrants entering the
Estimated foreign-born population by country of birth, April
2007 – March 2008
1931, this figure had risen to 2.6%, and by 1951 it was
One of the more recent trends in migration has been the
arrival of workers from the new EU member states in
Eastern Europe. In 2010, there were 7.0 million foreignborn residents in the UK, corresponding to 11.3% of the
total population. Of these, 4.76 million (7.7%) were born
outside the EU and 2.24 million (3.6%) were born in another EU Member State.[355] The proportion of foreignborn people in the UK remains slightly below that of
many other European countries.[356] However, immigration is now contributing to a rising population[357] with
arrivals and UK-born children of migrants accounting for
about half of the population increase between 1991 and
2001. Analysis of Office for National Statistics (ONS)
data shows that a net total of 2.3 million migrants moved
to the UK in the 15 years from 1991 to 2006.[358][359] In
2008 it was predicted that migration would add 7 million
to the UK population by 2031,[360] though these figures
are disputed.[361] The ONS reported that net migration
rose from 2009 to 2010 by 21% to 239,000.[362] In 2011
the net increase was 251,000: immigration was 589,000,
while the number of people emigrating (for more than 12
months) was 338,000.[363][364]
Estimated number of British citizens living overseas by country,
The UK government has introduced a points-based
immigration system for immigration from outside the
European Economic Area to replace former schemes, including the Scottish Government’s Fresh Talent Initiative.[376] In June 2010 the UK government introduced
a temporary limit of 24,000 on immigration from outside the EU, aiming to discourage applications before a
permanent cap was imposed in April 2011.[377] The cap
has caused tension within the coalition: business secretary Vince Cable has argued that it is harming British
Emigration was an important feature of British society
in the 19th century. Between 1815 and 1930 around
11.4 million people emigrated from Britain and 7.3 million from Ireland. Estimates show that by the end of
the 20th century some 300 million people of British
and Irish descent were permanently settled around the
195,046 foreign nationals became British citizens in globe.[379] Today, at least 5.5 million UK-born people
2010,[365] compared to 54,902 in 1999.[365][366] A record live abroad,[380][381][382] mainly in Australia, Spain, the
241,192 people were granted permanent settlement rights United States and Canada.[380][383]
in 2010, of whom 51% were from Asia and 27% from
Africa.[367] 25.5% of babies born in England and Wales
in 2011 were born to mothers born outside the UK, ac- 7.5 Education
cording to official statistics released in 2012.[368]
Citizens of the European Union, including those of the Main article: Education in the United Kingdom
UK, have the right to live and work in any EU member See also: Education in England, Education in Northern
state.[369] The UK applied temporary restrictions to cit- Ireland, Education in Scotland and Education in Wales
izens of Romania and Bulgaria, which joined the EU in Education in the United Kingdom is a devolved matter,
January 2007.[370] Research conducted by the Migration with each country having a separate education system.
Policy Institute for the Equality and Human Rights Commission suggests that, between May 2004 and September 2009, 1.5 million workers migrated from the new
EU member states to the UK, two-thirds of them Polish, but that many subsequently returned home, resulting in a net increase in the number of nationals of the
new member states in the UK of some 700,000 over
that period.[371][372] The late-2000s recession in the UK
reduced the economic incentive for Poles to migrate
Whilst education in England is the responsibility of the
Secretary of State for Education, the day-to-day administration and funding of state schools is the responsibility of local authorities.[384] Universally free of charge
state education was introduced piecemeal between 1870
and 1944.[385][386] Education is now mandatory from ages
five to sixteen (15 if born in late July or August). In
2011, the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) rated 13–14-year-old pupils in Eng-
King’s College, part of the University of Cambridge, which was
founded in 1209
land and Wales 10th in the world for maths and 9th for
science.[387] The majority of children are educated in
state-sector schools, a small proportion of which select
on the grounds of academic ability. Two of the top ten
performing schools in terms of GCSE results in 2006
were state-run grammar schools. Over half of students
at the leading universities of Cambridge and Oxford had
attended state schools.[388] Despite a fall in actual numbers the proportion of children in England attending private schools has risen to over 7%.[389] In 2010, more than
45% of places at the University of Oxford and 40% at
the University of Cambridge were taken by students from
private schools, even though they educate just 7% of the
population.[390] England has the two oldest universities
in English-speaking world, Universities of Oxford and
Cambridge (jointly known as "Oxbridge") with history
of over eight centuries. The United Kingdom has 9 universities featured in the Times Higher Education top 100
rankings, making it second to the United States in terms
of representation.[391]
public bodies have key roles in Scottish education. The
Scottish Qualifications Authority is responsible for the
development, accreditation, assessment and certification
of qualifications other than degrees which are delivered at
secondary schools, post-secondary colleges of further education and other centres.[393] The Learning and Teaching Scotland provides advice, resources and staff development to education professionals.[394] Scotland first legislated for compulsory education in 1496.[395] The proportion of children in Scotland attending private schools
is just over 4%, and it has been rising slowly in recent
years.[396] Scottish students who attend Scottish universities pay neither tuition fees nor graduate endowment
charges, as fees were abolished in 2001 and the graduate endowment scheme was abolished in 2008.[397]
The Welsh Government has responsibility for education
in Wales. A significant number of Welsh students are
taught either wholly or largely in the Welsh language;
lessons in Welsh are compulsory for all until the age
of 16.[398] There are plans to increase the provision of
Welsh-medium schools as part of the policy of creating a
fully bilingual Wales.
Education in Northern Ireland is the responsibility of the
Minister of Education and the Minister for Employment
and Learning, although responsibility at a local level is
administered by five education and library boards covering different geographical areas. The Council for the
Curriculum, Examinations & Assessment (CCEA) is the
body responsible for advising the government on what
should be taught in Northern Ireland’s schools, monitoring standards and awarding qualifications.[399]
A government commission’s report in 2014 found that
privately educated people comprise 7% of the general
population of the UK but much larger percentages of the
top professions, the most extreme case quoted being 71%
of senior judges.[400][401]
7.6 Healthcare
Main article: Healthcare in the United Kingdom
Healthcare in the United Kingdom is a devolved matter and each country has its own system of private and
publicly funded health care, together with alternative,
holistic and complementary treatments. Public healthcare is provided to all UK permanent residents and is
mostly free at the point of need, being paid for from general taxation. The World Health Organization, in 2000,
ranked the provision of healthcare in the United Kingdom as fifteenth best in Europe and eighteenth in the
Queen’s University Belfast, built in 1849[392]
Education in Scotland is the responsibility of the Cabinet
Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning, with dayto-day administration and funding of state schools the responsibility of Local Authorities. Two non-departmental
Regulatory bodies are organised on a UK-wide basis
such as the General Medical Council, the Nursing and
Midwifery Council and non-governmental-based, such
as the Royal Colleges. However, political and operational responsibility for healthcare lies with four national
executives; healthcare in England is the responsibility
The Royal Aberdeen Children’s Hospital, an NHS Scotland specialist children’s hospital
of the UK Government; healthcare in Northern Ireland
is the responsibility of the Northern Ireland Executive;
healthcare in Scotland is the responsibility of the Scottish
Government; and healthcare in Wales is the responsibility of the Welsh Assembly Government. Each National
Health Service has different policies and priorities, reThe Chandos portrait, believed to depict William Shakespeare
sulting in contrasts.[404][405]
Since 1979 expenditure on healthcare has been increased significantly to bring it closer to the European
Union average.[406] The UK spends around 8.4% of its
gross domestic product on healthcare, which is 0.5 percentage points below the Organisation for Economic
Co-operation and Development average and about one
percentage point below the average of the European
Main article: Culture of the United Kingdom
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, South
Africa and the United States. The substantial cultural influence of the United Kingdom has led it to be described
as a “cultural superpower.”[408][409]
United Kingdom, the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands. Most British literature is in the English language.
In 2005, some 206,000 books were published in the
United Kingdom and in 2006 it was the largest publisher
of books in the world.[410]
The English playwright and poet William Shakespeare
is widely regarded as the greatest dramatist of all
time,[411][412][413] and his contemporaries Christopher
Marlowe and Ben Jonson have also been held in continuous high esteem. More recently the playwrights Alan
Ayckbourn, Harold Pinter, Michael Frayn, Tom Stoppard
and David Edgar have combined elements of surrealism,
realism and radicalism.
Notable pre-modern and early-modern English writers
include Geoffrey Chaucer (14th century), Thomas Malory (15th century), Sir Thomas More (16th century),
John Bunyan (17th century) and John Milton (17th century). In the 18th century Daniel Defoe (author of
Robinson Crusoe) and Samuel Richardson were pioneers
of the modern novel. In the 19th century there followed
further innovation by Jane Austen, the gothic novelist
Mary Shelley, the children’s writer Lewis Carroll, the
Brontë sisters, the social campaigner Charles Dickens,
the naturalist Thomas Hardy, the realist George Eliot, the
visionary poet William Blake and romantic poet William
Wordsworth. 20th century English writers include the
science-fiction novelist H. G. Wells; the writers of chil8.1 Literature
dren’s classics Rudyard Kipling, A. A. Milne (the creator of Winnie-the-Pooh), Roald Dahl and Enid Blyton;
Main article: British literature
the controversial D. H. Lawrence; the modernist Virginia
'British literature' refers to literature associated with the Woolf; the satirist Evelyn Waugh; the prophetic novel-
ist George Orwell; the popular novelists W. Somerset
Maugham and Graham Greene; the crime writer Agatha
Christie (the best-selling novelist of all time);[414] Ian
Fleming (the creator of James Bond); the poets T.S. Eliot,
Philip Larkin and Ted Hughes; the fantasy writers J. R.
R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis and J. K. Rowling; the graphic
novelist Alan Moore.
the first Welsh-language novelist, publishing Rhys Lewis
in 1885. The best-known of the Anglo-Welsh poets are
both Thomases. Dylan Thomas became famous on both
sides of the Atlantic in the mid-20th century. He is remembered for his poetry – his "Do not go gentle into that
good night; Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”
is one of the most quoted couplets of English language
verse – and for his 'play for voices’, Under Milk Wood.
The influential Church in Wales 'poet-priest' and Welsh
nationalist R. S. Thomas was nominated for the Nobel
Prize in Literature in 1996. Leading Welsh novelists of
the twentieth century include Richard Llewellyn and Kate
Authors of other nationalities, particularly from
Commonwealth countries, the Republic of Ireland and
the United States, have lived and worked in the UK.
Significant examples through the centuries include
Jonathan Swift, Oscar Wilde, Bram Stoker, George
Bernard Shaw, Joseph Conrad, T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound
and more recently British authors born abroad such as
Kazuo Ishiguro and Sir Salman Rushdie.[421][422]
8.2 Music
Main article: Music of the United Kingdom
See also: British rock
Various styles of music are popular in the UK from the
A photograph of Victorian era novelist Charles Dickens
Scotland’s contributions include the detective writer
Arthur Conan Doyle (the creator of Sherlock Holmes),
romantic literature by Sir Walter Scott, the children’s
writer J. M. Barrie, the epic adventures of Robert Louis
Stevenson and the celebrated poet Robert Burns. More
recently the modernist and nationalist Hugh MacDiarmid and Neil M. Gunn contributed to the Scottish
Renaissance. A more grim outlook is found in Ian
Rankin's stories and the psychological horror-comedy
of Iain Banks. Scotland’s capital, Edinburgh, was UNESCO’s first worldwide City of Literature.[415]
Britain’s oldest known poem, Y Gododdin, was composed
in Yr Hen Ogledd (The Old North), most likely in the late
6th century. It was written in Cumbric or Old Welsh and
contains the earliest known reference to King Arthur.[416]
From around the seventh century, the connection between Wales and the Old North was lost, and the focus of Welsh-language culture shifted to Wales, where
Arthurian legend was further developed by Geoffrey of
Monmouth.[417] Wales’s most celebrated medieval poet,
Dafydd ap Gwilym (fl.1320–1370), composed poetry on
themes including nature, religion and especially love. He
is widely regarded as one of the greatest European poets
of his age.[418] Until the late 19th century the majority
of Welsh literature was in Welsh and much of the prose
was religious in character. Daniel Owen is credited as
The Beatles are the most commercially successful and critically
acclaimed band in the history of music, selling over a billion
records internationally.[423][424][425]
indigenous folk music of England, Wales, Scotland and
Northern Ireland to heavy metal. Notable composers of
classical music from the United Kingdom and the countries that preceded it include William Byrd, Henry Purcell, Sir Edward Elgar, Gustav Holst, Sir Arthur Sullivan (most famous for working with the librettist Sir W.
S. Gilbert), Ralph Vaughan Williams and Benjamin Brit-
ten, pioneer of modern British opera. Sir Peter Maxwell
Davies is one of the foremost living composers and current Master of the Queen’s Music. The UK is also home
to world-renowned symphonic orchestras and choruses
such as the BBC Symphony Orchestra and the London
Symphony Chorus. Notable conductors include Sir Simon Rattle, John Barbirolli and Sir Malcolm Sargent.
Some of the notable film score composers include John
Barry, Clint Mansell, Mike Oldfield, John Powell, Craig
Armstrong, David Arnold, John Murphy, Monty Norman and Harry Gregson-Williams. George Frideric Handel, although born German, was a naturalised British citizen[426] and some of his best works, such as Messiah, were
written in the English language.[427] Andrew Lloyd Webber has achieved enormous worldwide commercial success and is a prolific composer of musical theatre, works
which have dominated London’s West End for a number
of years and have travelled to Broadway in New York.[428]
The Beatles have international sales of over one billion
units and are the biggest-selling and most influential band
in the history of popular music.[423][424][425][429] Other
prominent British contributors to have influenced popular music over the last 50 years include; The Rolling
Stones, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Queen, the Bee Gees,
and Elton John, all of whom have world wide record sales
of 200 million or more.[430][431][432][433][434][435] The Brit
Awards are the BPI’s annual music awards, and some
of the British recipients of the Outstanding Contribution
to Music award include; The Who, David Bowie, Eric
Clapton, Rod Stewart and The Police.[436] More recent
UK music acts that have had international success include Coldplay, Radiohead, Oasis, Spice Girls, Robbie
Williams, Amy Winehouse and Adele.[437]
A number of UK cities are known for their music. Acts
from Liverpool have had more UK chart number one hit
singles per capita (54) than any other city worldwide.[438]
Glasgow's contribution to music was recognised in 2008
when it was named a UNESCO City of Music, one of
only three cities in the world to have this honour.[439]
Visual art
Main article: Art of the United Kingdom
The history of British visual art forms part of western
art history. Major British artists include: the Romantics
William Blake, John Constable, Samuel Palmer and
J.M.W. Turner; the portrait painters Sir Joshua Reynolds
and Lucian Freud; the landscape artists Thomas Gainsborough and L. S. Lowry; the pioneer of the Arts and
Crafts Movement William Morris; the figurative painter
Francis Bacon; the Pop artists Peter Blake, Richard
Hamilton and David Hockney; the collaborative duo
Gilbert and George; the abstract artist Howard Hodgkin;
and the sculptors Antony Gormley, Anish Kapoor and
Henry Moore. During the late 1980s and 1990s the
Saatchi Gallery in London helped to bring to public attention a group of multi-genre artists who would be-
J. M. W. Turner self-portrait, oil on canvas, c. 1799
come known as the "Young British Artists": Damien
Hirst, Chris Ofili, Rachel Whiteread, Tracey Emin, Mark
Wallinger, Steve McQueen, Sam Taylor-Wood and the
Chapman Brothers are among the better-known members
of this loosely affiliated movement.
The Royal Academy in London is a key organisation for
the promotion of the visual arts in the United Kingdom.
Major schools of art in the UK include: the six-school
University of the Arts London, which includes the Central
Saint Martins College of Art and Design and Chelsea College of Art and Design; Goldsmiths, University of London; the Slade School of Fine Art (part of University College London); the Glasgow School of Art; the Royal College of Art; and The Ruskin School of Drawing and Fine
Art (part of the University of Oxford). The Courtauld
Institute of Art is a leading centre for the teaching of
the history of art. Important art galleries in the United
Kingdom include the National Gallery, National Portrait
Gallery, Tate Britain and Tate Modern (the most-visited
modern art gallery in the world, with around 4.7 million
visitors per year).[440]
8.4 Cinema
Main article: Cinema of the United Kingdom
The United Kingdom has had a considerable influence
on the history of the cinema. The British directors
Alfred Hitchcock, whose film Vertigo is considered by
some critics as the best film of all time,[441] and David
Lean are among the most critically acclaimed of all-
hosted by the British Academy of Film and Television
8.5 Media
Main article: Media of the United Kingdom
The BBC, founded in 1922, is the UK’s publicly
Film director Alfred Hitchcock
time.[442] Other important directors including Charlie
Chaplin,[443] Michael Powell,[444] Carol Reed[445] and
Ridley Scott.[446] Many British actors have achieved international fame and critical success, including: Julie Andrews,[447] Richard Burton,[448] Michael Caine,[449] Charlie Chaplin,[450] Sean Connery,[451] Vivien Leigh,[452]
David Niven,[453] Laurence Olivier,[454] Peter Sellers,[455]
Kate Winslet,[456] Anthony Hopkins,[457] and Daniel DayLewis.[458] Some of the most commercially successful
films of all time have been produced in the United Kingdom, including the two highest-grossing film franchises
(Harry Potter and James Bond).[459] Ealing Studios has a
claim to being the oldest continuously working film studio
in the world.[460]
Despite a history of important and successful productions, the industry has often been characterised by a debate about its identity and the level of American and
European influence. British producers are active in
international co-productions and British actors, directors
and crew feature regularly in American films. Many successful Hollywood films have been based on British people, stories or events, including Titanic, The Lord of the
Rings, Pirates of the Caribbean.
In 2009, British films grossed around $2 billion worldwide and achieved a market share of around 7% globally
and 17% in the United Kingdom.[461] UK box-office takings totalled £944 million in 2009, with around 173 million admissions.[461] The British Film Institute has produced a poll ranking of what it considers to be the 100
greatest British films of all time, the BFI Top 100 British
films.[462] The annual British Academy Film Awards are
Broadcasting House in London, headquarters of the BBC, the
oldest and largest broadcaster in the world.[464][465][466]
funded radio, television and Internet broadcasting corporation, and is the oldest and largest broadcaster in the
world.[464][465][466] It operates numerous television and
radio stations in the UK and abroad and its domestic services are funded by the television licence.[467][468] Other
major players in the UK media include ITV plc, which
operates 11 of the 15 regional television broadcasters that
make up the ITV Network,[469] and News Corporation,
which owns a number of national newspapers through
News International such as the most popular tabloid The
Sun and the longest-established daily "broadsheet" The
Times,[470] as well as holding a large stake in satellite
broadcaster British Sky Broadcasting.[471] London dominates the media sector in the UK: national newspapers
and television and radio are largely based there, although
Manchester is also a significant national media centre.
Edinburgh and Glasgow, and Cardiff, are important centres of newspaper and broadcasting production in Scotland and Wales respectively.[472] The UK publishing sector, including books, directories and databases, journals,
magazines and business media, newspapers and news
agencies, has a combined turnover of around £20 billion
and employs around 167,000 people.[473]
In 2009, it was estimated that individuals viewed a mean
of 3.75 hours of television per day and 2.81 hours of
radio. In that year the main BBC public service broadcasting channels accounted for an estimated 28.4% of
all television viewing; the three main independent channels accounted for 29.5% and the increasingly important other satellite and digital channels for the remaining 42.1%.[474] Sales of newspapers have fallen since the
1970s and in 2009 42% of people reported reading a daily
national newspaper.[475] In 2010 82.5% of the UK population were Internet users, the highest proportion amongst Wembley Stadium, London, home of the England national footthe 20 countries with the largest total number of users in ball team, is one of the most expensive stadia ever built.[480]
that year.[476]
Main article: British philosophy
The United Kingdom is famous for the tradition of
'British Empiricism', a branch of the philosophy of
knowledge that states that only knowledge verified by
experience is valid, and 'Scottish Philosophy', sometimes referred to as the 'Scottish School of Common
Sense'.[477] The most famous philosophers of British Empiricism are John Locke, George Berkeley and David
Hume; while Dugald Stewart, Thomas Reid and William
Hamilton were major exponents of the Scottish “common sense” school. Two Britons are also notable for a
theory of moral philosophy utilitarianism, first used by
Jeremy Bentham and later by John Stuart Mill in his
short work Utilitarianism.[478][479] Other eminent philosophers from the UK and the unions and countries that
preceded it include Duns Scotus, John Lilburne, Mary
Wollstonecraft, Sir Francis Bacon, Adam Smith, Thomas
Hobbes, William of Ockham, Bertrand Russell and A.J.
“Freddie” Ayer. Foreign-born philosophers who settled
in the UK include Isaiah Berlin, Karl Marx, Karl Popper
and Ludwig Wittgenstein.
Main article: Sport in the United Kingdom
Major sports, including association football, tennis,
rugby union, rugby league, golf, boxing, rowing and
cricket, originated or were substantially developed in the
UK and the states that preceded it. With the rules and
codes of many modern sports invented and codified in
late 19th century Victorian Britain, in 2012, the President
of the IOC, Jacques Rogge, stated; “This great, sportsloving country is widely recognized as the birthplace of
modern sport. It was here that the concepts of sportsmanship and fair play were first codified into clear rules
and regulations. It was here that sport was included as an
educational tool in the school curriculum”.[481][482]
In most international competitions, separate teams represent England, Scotland and Wales. Northern Ireland
and the Republic of Ireland usually field a single team
representing all of Ireland, with notable exceptions being
association football and the Commonwealth Games. In
sporting contexts, the English, Scottish, Welsh and Irish
/ Northern Irish teams are often referred to collectively
as the Home Nations. There are some sports in which a
single team represents the whole of United Kingdom, including the Olympics, where the UK is represented by the
Great Britain team. The 1908, 1948 and 2012 Summer
Olympics were held in London, making it the first city to
host the games three times. Britain has participated in
every modern Olympic Games to date and is third in the
medal count.
A 2003 poll found that football is the most popular sport
in the United Kingdom.[483] England is recognised by
FIFA as the birthplace of club football, and The Football Association is the oldest of its kind, with the rules
of football first drafted in 1863 by Ebenezer Cobb Morley.[484][485] Each of the Home Nations has its own football association, national team and league system. The
English top division, the Premier League, is the most
watched football league in the world.[486] The first-ever
international football match was contested by England
and Scotland on 30 November 1872.[487] England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland compete as separate countries in international competitions.[488] A Great
Britain Olympic football team was assembled for the first
time to compete in the London 2012 Olympic Games.
However, the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish football
associations declined to participate, fearing that it would
undermine their independent status – a fear confirmed by
FIFA president Sepp Blatter.[489]
In 2003, rugby union was ranked the second most popular sport in the UK.[483] The sport was created in
Rugby School, Warwickshire, and the first rugby international took place on 27 March 1871 between England
and Scotland.[490][491] England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland,
France and Italy compete in the Six Nations Championship; the premier international tournament in the north-
The Millennium Stadium, Cardiff, opened for the 1999 Rugby
World Cup.
The Wimbledon Championships, the oldest Grand Slam tennis
tournament, is held in Wimbledon, London every June and July.
and early July.[502]
ern hemisphere. Sport governing bodies in England,
Scotland, Wales and Ireland organise and regulate the
game separately.[492] If any of the British teams or the
Irish team beat the other three in a tournament, then it is
awarded the Triple Crown.[493]
Thoroughbred racing, which originated under Charles II
of England as the “sport of kings”, is popular throughout the UK with world-famous races including the
Grand National, the Epsom Derby, Royal Ascot and
the Cheltenham National Hunt Festival (including the
Cricket was invented in England, and its laws were es- Cheltenham Gold Cup). The UK has proved successful
tablished by Marylebone Cricket Club in 1788.[494] The in the international sporting arena in rowing.
England cricket team, controlled by the England and The UK is closely associated with motorsport. Many
Wales Cricket Board,[495] is the only national team in the teams and drivers in Formula One (F1) are based in
UK with Test status. Team members are drawn from the the UK, and the country has won more drivers’ and
main county sides, and include both English and Welsh constructors’ titles than any other. The UK hosted the
players. Cricket is distinct from football and rugby where very first F1 Grand Prix in 1950 at Silverstone, the current
Wales and England field separate national teams, although location of the British Grand Prix held each year in July.
Wales had fielded its own team in the past. Irish and The country also hosts legs of the Grand Prix motorcycle
Scottish players have played for England because neither racing, World Rally Championship and FIA World EnScotland nor Ireland have Test status and have only re- durance Championship. The premier national auto racing
cently started to play in One Day Internationals.[496][497] event is the British Touring Car Championship (BTCC).
Scotland, England (and Wales), and Ireland (including Motorcycle road racing has a long tradition with races
Northern Ireland) have competed at the Cricket World such as the Isle of Man TT and the North West 200.
Cup, with England reaching the finals on three occa- Golf is the sixth-most popular sport, by participation, in
sions. There is a professional league championship in
the UK. Although The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St
which clubs representing 17 English counties and 1 Welsh Andrews in Scotland is the sport’s home course,[503] the
county compete.[498]
world’s oldest golf course is actually Musselburgh Links’
Rugby league originated in Huddersfield and is generally Old Golf Course.[504] In 1764, the standard 18 hole golf
played in Northern England.[499] A single 'Great Britain course was created at St Andrews when members modiLions’ team had competed in the Rugby League World fied the course from 22 to 18 holes.[505] The oldest golf
Cup and Test match games, but this changed in 2008 tournament in the world, and the first major champiwhen England, Scotland and Ireland competed as sepa- onship in golf, The Open Championship, is played anrate nations.[500] Great Britain is still being retained as nually on the weekend of the third Friday in July.[506]
the full national team for Ashes tours against Australia, Snooker is one of the UK’s popular sporting exports, with
New Zealand and France. Super League is the highest the world championships held annually in Sheffield.[507]
level of professional rugby league in the UK and Europe. The modern game of lawn tennis first originated in
It consists of 11 teams from Northern England, 1 from the city of Birmingham between 1859 and 1865.[508]
London, 1 from Wales and 1 from France.
The Championships, Wimbledon are international tennis
The modern game of tennis originated in Birmingham, England in the 1860s, before spreading around
the world.[501] The world’s oldest tennis tournament, the
Wimbledon championships, first occurred in 1877, and
today the event takes place over two weeks in late June
events held in Wimbledon in south London every summer and are regarded as the most prestigious event of the
global tennis calendar. In Northern Ireland Gaelic football and hurling are popular team sports, both in terms
of participation and spectating, and Irish expatriates in
the UK and the US also play them.[509] Shinty (or camanachd) is popular in the Scottish Highlands.[510]
Main article: Symbols of the United Kingdom, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man
The flag of the United Kingdom is the Union Flag (also
depicted behind Britannia on the British fifty pence coin
and on the back of the British ten pence coin. It is also
used as a symbol on the non-ceremonial flag of the British
Army. The bulldog is sometimes used as a symbol of the
United Kingdom and has been associated with Winston
Churchill’s defiance of Nazi Germany.[513]
9 See also
• Outline of the United Kingdom
• United Kingdom – Wikipedia book
• Walking in the United Kingdom
10 Notes
[1] The Royal coat of arms used in Scotland:
The Statue of Britannia in Plymouth. Britannia is a national personification of the UK.
referred to as the Union Jack). It was created in 1606 by
the superimposition of the Flag of England on the Flag of
Scotland and updated in 1801 with the addition of Saint
Patrick’s Flag. Wales is not represented in the Union Flag,
as Wales had been conquered and annexed to England
prior to the formation of the United Kingdom. The possibility of redesigning the Union Flag to include representation of Wales has not been completely ruled out.[511] The
national anthem of the United Kingdom is "God Save the
King", with “King” replaced with “Queen” in the lyrics
whenever the monarch is a woman.
Britannia is a national personification of the United Kingdom, originating from Roman Britain.[512] 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 on the
back of a lion. Since the height of the British Empire in
the late 19th century, Britannia has often been associated
with British maritime dominance, as in the patriotic song
"Rule, Britannia!". Up until 2008, the lion symbol was
[2] There is no authorised version of the national anthem as
the words are a matter of tradition; only the first verse
is usually sung.[1] No law was passed making “God Save
the Queen” the official anthem. In the English tradition,
such laws are not necessary; proclamation and usage are
sufficient to make it the national anthem. “God Save
the Queen” also serves as the Royal anthem for certain
Commonwealth realms.
[3] Under the Council of Europe's European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages, Scots, Ulster-Scots, Welsh,
Cornish, Irish and Scottish Gaelic, are officially recognised as regional or minority languages by the British
government for the purposes of the Charter. See also
Languages of the United Kingdom.[2]
[4] European Union since 1993.
[5] Although Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK that
shares a land border with another state, two of its Overseas Territories also share land borders with other states.
Gibraltar shares a border with Spain, while the Sovereign
Base Areas of Akrotiri and Dhekelia share borders with
the Republic of Cyprus, Turkish Republic of Northern
Cyprus and UN buffer zone separating the two Cypriot
[6] The Anglo-Irish Treaty was signed on 6 December 1921
to resolve the Irish War of Independence. Effective one
year later, it established the Irish Free State as a separate
dominion within the Commonwealth. The UK’s current
name was adopted in 1927 to reflect the change.
[7] Compare to section 1 of both of the 1800 Acts of Union
which reads: the Kingdoms of Great Britain and Ireland
shall...be united into one Kingdom, by the Name of “The
United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland”
[8] New Zealand, Israel and San Marino are the other countries with uncodified constitutions.
[9] Since the early twentieth century the prime minister has
held the office of First Lord of the Treasury, and in recent
decades has also held the office of Minister for the Civil
[10] Sinn Féin, an Irish republican party, also contests elections
in the Republic of Ireland.
[11] In 2007–2008, this was calculated to be £115 per week for
single adults with no dependent children; £199 per week
for couples with no dependent children; £195 per week for
single adults with two dependent children under 14; and
£279 per week for couples with two dependent children
under 14.
[1] National Anthem, British Monarchy official website. Retrieved 16 November 2013.
[2] “List of declarations made with respect to treaty No. 148”.
Council of Europe. Retrieved 12 December 2013.
[3] “Population Estimates for UK, England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, Mid-2013”. Office for National Statistics. Retrieved 26 June 2014.
[4] “2011 UK censuses”. Office for National Statistics. Retrieved 17 December 2012.
[5] “United Kingdom”. International Monetary Fund. Retrieved 5 February 2014.
[6] “Gini coefficient of equivalised disposable income
(source: SILC)". Eurostat Data Explorer. Retrieved 13
August 2013.
[7] “2014 Human Development Report”. 14 March 2013. pp.
22–25. Retrieved 27 July 2014.
[12] “Countries within a country”. Prime Minister’s Office. 10
January 2003. Retrieved 8 March 2015.
[13] “Devolution of powers to Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland”. United Kingdom Government. Retrieved
17 April 2013. In a similar way to how the government
is formed from members from the two Houses of Parliament, members of the devolved legislatures nominate
ministers from among themselves to comprise an executive, known as the devolved administrations...
[14] “Fall in UK university students”. BBC News. 29 January
[15] “Country Overviews: United Kingdom”. Transport Research Knowledge Centre. Retrieved 28 March 2010.
[16] “Key facts about the United Kingdom”. Directgov.
Archived from the original on 3 October 2012. Retrieved
6 March 2015. The full title of this country is 'the United
Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland'. Great
Britain is made up of England, Scotland and Wales. The
United Kingdom (UK) is made up of England, Scotland,
Wales and Northern Ireland. 'Britain' is used informally,
usually meaning the United Kingdom. The Channel Islands and the Isle of Man are not part of the UK.
[17] “Supporting the Overseas Territories”. Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Retrieved 9 March 2015.
[18] Mathias, P. (2001). The First Industrial Nation: the Economic History of Britain, 1700–1914. London: Routledge. ISBN 0-415-26672-6.
[19] Ferguson, Niall (2004). Empire: The rise and demise of
the British world order and the lessons for global power.
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the name for the island that comprises England, Scotland,
and Wales, although the term is also used loosely to refer
to the United Kingdom.
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13 External links
• Official website of HM Government
• Official website of the British Monarchy
• Official Yearbook of the United Kingdom statistics
• The official site of the British Prime Minister’s Office
General information
• United Kingdom from the BBC News
• United Kingdom entry at The World Factbook
• United Kingdom from UCB Libraries GovPubs
• United Kingdom at DMOZ
• United Kingdom Encyclopædia Britannica entry
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PGA Tour. Archived from the original on 2 October
2012. Retrieved 9 March 2015.
• United Kingdom from the OECD
[507] Chowdhury, Saj (22 January 2007). “China in Ding’s
hands”. BBC Sport. Retrieved 2 January 2011.
• Wikimedia Atlas of United Kingdom
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and Major T.Gem"]. The Birmingham Civic Society.
Archived from the original on 18 August 2011. Retrieved
31 December 2010.
[509] Gould, Joe (10 April 2007). “The ancient Irish sport of
hurling catches on in America”. Columbia News Service
(Columbia Journalism School). Retrieved 17 May 2011.
[510] “Shinty”. Scottishsport.co.uk. Retrieved 28 April 2013.
[511] “Welsh dragon call for Union flag”. BBC News. 27
November 2007. Retrieved 17 October 2008.
[512] “Britannia on British Coins”. Chard. Retrieved 25 June
[513] Baker, Steve (2001). Picturing the Beast. University of
Illinois Press. p. 52. ISBN 0-252-07030-5.
Further reading
• Hitchens, Peter (2000). The Abolition of Britain:
from Winston Churchill to Princess Diana. Second
ed. San Francisco, Calif.: Encounter Books. xi, 332
p. ISBN 1-893554-18-X.
• Lambert, Richard S. (1964). The Great Heritage: a
History of Britain for Canadians. House of Grant,
1964 (and earlier editions and printings).
• United Kingdom at the EU
• Geographic data related to United Kingdom at
• Key Development Forecasts for the United Kingdom
from International Futures
• Official tourist guide to Britain
Coordinates: 55°N 3°W / 55°N 3°W
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