United Kingdom

UNITED KINGDOM

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United Kingdom Wikipedia



This article is about the sovereign state. For the island, see Great Britain. For other uses, see United Kingdom (disambiguation) and UK (disambiguation).
United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
A flag featuring both cross and saltire in red, white and blueCoat of arms containing shield and crown in centre, flanked by lion and unicorn
FlagRoyal coat of arms[nb 1]
Anthem: "God Save the Queen"[nb 2]


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Two islands to the north-west of continental Europe. Highlighted are the larger island and the north-eastern fifth of the smaller island to the west.
Location of the  United Kingdom  (dark green)
– in Europe  (green & dark grey)

– in the European Union  (green)
Capital


and largest city
London


51°30′N 0°7′W / 51.500°N 0.117°W / 51.500; -0.117
Official languagesEnglish
Recognised regional languagesScots, Ulster-Scots, Welsh, Cornish, Irish, Scottish Gaelic[nb 3]
Ethnic groups (2011)
  • 87.1% White
  • 7.0% Asian
  • 3.0% Black
  • 2.0% Mixed
  • 0.9% Other[nb 4]
DemonymBritish, Briton
GovernmentUnitary parliamentary constitutional monarchy
 - MonarchQueen Elizabeth II
 - Prime MinisterDavid Cameron
LegislatureParliament
 - Upper houseHouse of Lords
 - Lower houseHouse of Commons
Formation
 - Acts of Union 17071 May 1707 
 - Acts of Union 18001 January 1801 
 - Anglo-Irish Treaty6 December 1922 
Area
 - Total243,610 km2 (80th)


94,060 sq mi
 - Water (%)1.34
Population
 - 2013 estimate64,100,000 (22nd)
 - 2011 census63,181,775 (22nd)
 - Density255.6/km2 (51st)


661.9/sq mi
GDP (PPP)2014 estimate
 - Total$2.497 trillion (8th)
 - Per capita$38,711 (21st)
GDP (nominal)2014 estimate
 - Total$2.828 trillion (6th)
 - Per capita$43,830 (21st)
Gini (2012)positive decrease 32.8


medium · 33rd
HDI (2013)Increase 0.875


very high · 26th
CurrencyPound sterling (GBP)
Time zoneGMT (UTC​)
 - Summer (DST)BST (UTC+1)
Date formatdd/mm/yyyy (AD)
Drives on theleft
Calling code+44
ISO 3166 codeGB
Internet TLD.uk[nb 5]
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland,[nb 6] commonly known as the United Kingdom (UK) or simply Britain /ˈbrɪ.tən/, is a sovereign state located off the north-western coast of continental Europe. The country includes the island of Great Britain (a term sometimes also loosely applied to the whole state), the north-eastern part of the island of Ireland, and many smaller islands. Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK that shares a land border with another state: the Republic of Ireland.[nb 7] Apart from this land border, the UK is surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean, with the North Sea in the east, the English Channel in the south and the Irish Sea in the west.

The UK's form of government is a constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary system. Its capital city is London, an important global city with the second largest urban area in the European Union. The current British monarch—since 6 February 1952—is Queen Elizabeth II. The United Kingdom consists of four countries: England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The latter three have devolved administrations, each with varying powers, based in their capital cities, Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast, respectively. Guernsey, Jersey and the Isle of Man are British Crown dependencies and the British Government is responsible for defence and international representation. The United Kingdom has fourteen British Overseas Territories which are remnants of the British Empire which, at its height in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, encompassed almost a quarter of the world's land mass and was the largest empire in history. British influence can be observed in the language, culture and legal systems of many of its former colonies.

The United Kingdom is a developed country and has the world's sixth-largest economy by nominal GDP and eighth-largest by purchasing power parity. It was the world's first industrialised country and the world's foremost power during the 19th and early 20th centuries. The UK remains a great power with considerable economic, cultural, military, scientific and political influence internationally. It is a recognised nuclear weapons state and its military expenditure ranks from fourth to sixth (depending on the source) in the world. The UK has been a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council since its first session in 1946. It has been a member 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 (WTO).

Contents

              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 United Kingdom of Great Britain and the United Kingdom.[nb 8] The term United Kingdom is found in informal use during the 18th century and the country was occasionally referred to as the "United Kingdom of Great Britain". The Acts of Union 1800 united the Kingdom of Great Britain and the Kingdom of Ireland in 1801, and created the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. The name "United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland" was adopted by the Royal and Parliamentary Titles Act 1927. It reflected the independence of the Irish Free State, and the partition of Ireland, in 1922, which left Northern Ireland as the only part of the island of Ireland within the UK.

              Although the United Kingdom, as a sovereign state, is a country, England, Scotland, Wales, and to a lesser degree, Northern Ireland, are also regarded as countries, though not sovereign states. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have devolved self-government. The British Prime Minister's website has used the phrase "countries within a country" to describe the United Kingdom. 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". Northern Ireland is also referred to as a "province". With regard to Northern Ireland, the descriptive name used "can be controversial, with the choice often revealing one's political preferences."

              The term Britain is often used as synonym for the United Kingdom. The term Great Britain, by contrast, refers geographically to the island of Great Britain, or politically to England, Scotland and Wales in combination. However, it is sometimes used as a loose synonym for the United Kingdom as a whole. 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. Also, the United Kingdom's Olympic team competes under the name "Great Britain" or "Team GB".

              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. British people 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; or as being both.

              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. 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. In Scottish Gaelic, the long form is "Rìoghachd Aonaichte Bhreatainn is Èireann a Tuath" and the short form "Rìoghachd Aonaichte".

              History

              See also: History of the British Isles

              Before 1707




              Stonehenge, in Wiltshire, was erected around 2500 BC.
              Main articles: History of England, History of Wales, History of Scotland, History of Ireland and History of the formation of the United Kingdom
              Settlement by anatomically modern humans of what was to become the United Kingdom occurred in waves beginning by about 30,000 years ago. By the end of the region's prehistoric period, the population is thought to have belonged, in the main, to a culture termed Insular Celtic, comprising Brythonic Britain and Gaelic Ireland. 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. Most of the region settled by the Anglo-Saxons became unified as the Kingdom of England in the 10th century. 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) united with the Picts to create the Kingdom of Scotland in the 9th century.

              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. The Norman elites greatly influenced, but eventually assimilated with, each of the local cultures. Subsequent medieval English kings completed the conquest of Wales and made an unsuccessful attempt to annex Scotland. Thereafter, 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.



              The Bayeux Tapestry depicts the Battle of Hastings and the events leading to it.
              The early modern period saw religious conflict resulting from the Reformation and the introduction of Protestant state churches in each country. Wales was fully incorporated into the Kingdom of England, and Ireland was constituted as a kingdom in personal union with the English crown. In what was to become Northern Ireland, the lands of the independent Catholic Gaelic nobility were confiscated and given to Protestant settlers from England and Scotland.

              In 1603, the kingdoms of England, Scotland and Ireland were united in a personal union when James VI, King of Scots, inherited the crowns of England and Ireland and moved his court from Edinburgh to London; each country nevertheless remained a separate political entity and retained its separate political, legal, and religious institutions.

              In the mid-17th century, all three kingdoms were involved in a series of connected wars (including the English Civil War) which led to the temporary overthrow of the monarchy and the establishment of the short-lived unitary republic of the Commonwealth of England, Scotland and Ireland.

              Although the monarchy was restored, it ensured (with the Glorious Revolution of 1688) that, unlike much of the rest of Europe, royal absolutism would not prevail, and a professed Catholic could never accede to the throne. The British constitution would develop on the basis of constitutional monarchy and the parliamentary system. During this period, particularly in England, the development of naval power (and the interest in voyages of discovery) led to the acquisition and settlement of overseas colonies, particularly in North America.

              Since the Acts of Union of 1707

              Main article: History of the United Kingdom



              The Treaty of Union led to a single united kingdom encompassing all Great Britain.
              On 1 May 1707, the united kingdom of 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 kingdoms.

              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 broke away from Britain in the American War of Independence became the United States of America in 1782. British imperial ambition turned elsewhere, particularly to India.

              During the 18th century, Britain was involved in the Atlantic slave trade. British ships transported an estimated 2 million slaves from Africa to the West Indies before banning the trade in 1807. The term 'United Kingdom' became official in 1801 when the parliaments of Britain and Ireland each passed an Act of Union, uniting the two kingdoms and creating the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland.

              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.
              Painting of a bloody battle. Horses and infantry fight or lie on grass.


              The Battle of Waterloo marked the end of the Napoleonic Wars 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). Unchallenged at sea, British dominance was later described as Pax Britannica. By the time of the Great Exhibition of 1851, Britain was described as the "workshop of the world". 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. 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. 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.

              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.
              Black-and-white photo of two dozen men in military uniforms and metal helmets sitting or standing in a muddy trench.


              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.
              The UK fought with France, Russia and (after 1917) the US, against Germany and its allies in World War I (1914–18). The UK armed forces were engaged across much of the British Empire and in several regions of Europe, particularly on the Western front. 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 disruption in the social order.

              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. However, the UK had suffered 2.5 million casualties and finished the war with a huge national debt. 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, and the Irish Free State became independent with Dominion status in 1922. Northern Ireland remained part of the United Kingdom. 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.

              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 States.
              Map of the world. Canada, the eastern United States, countries in east Africa, India, most of Australasia and some other countries are highlighted in pink.


              Territories that were at one time part of the British Empire. Current British Overseas Territories are underlined in red.
              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. 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. 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. Over the next three decades, most colonies of the British Empire gained their independence. Many became members of the Commonwealth of Nations.

              Although the UK was the third country to develop a nuclear weapons arsenal (with its first atomic bomb test in 1952), the new post-war limits of Britain's international role were illustrated by the Suez Crisis of 1956. The international spread of the English language ensured the continuing international influence of its literature and culture. From the 1960s onward, its popular culture was also influential abroad. As a result of a shortage of workers in the 1950s, the UK government encouraged immigration from Commonwealth countries. In the following decades, the UK became a multi-ethnic society. 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 West Germany and Japan. In 1973, the UK joined the European Economic Community (EEC), and when the EEC became the European Union (EU) in 1992, it was one of the 12 founding members.



              After the two vetos of France in 1961 and 1967, the UK entered in the European Union in 1973. In 1975, 67% of Britons voted yes to the permanence in the European Union.
              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.

              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. 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.

              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. 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, UN and NATO. However, controversy surrounds some of Britain's overseas military deployments, particularly in Afghanistan and Iraq.

              The 2008 global financial crisis severely affected the UK economy. The coalition government of 2010 introduced austerity measures intended to tackle the substantial public deficits which resulted. Scottish Independence is back on the agenda. The Scottish Government will hold an independence referendum on 18 September 2014. If passed Scotland will become a sovereign state independent of the other nations within the current UK.

              Geography

              Main article: Geography of the United Kingdom
              Map of United Kingdom showing hilly regions to north and west, and flattest region in the south-east.


              The topography of the UK
              The total area of the United Kingdom is approximately 243,610 square kilometres (94,060 sq mi). The country occupies the major part of the British Isles archipelago and includes the island of Great Britain, the north-eastern one-sixth of the island of Ireland and some smaller surrounding islands. It lies between the North Atlantic Ocean and the North Sea with the south-east coast coming within 22 miles (35 km) of the coast of northern France, from which it is separated by the English Channel. In 1993 10% of the UK was forested, 46% used for pastures and 25% cultivated for agriculture. The Royal Greenwich Observatory in London is the defining point of the Prime Meridian.

              The United Kingdom lies between latitudes 49° to 61° N, and longitudes 9° W to 2° E. Northern Ireland shares a 224-mile (360 km) land boundary with the Republic of Ireland. The coastline of Great Britain is 11,073 miles (17,820 km) long. It is connected to continental Europe by the Channel Tunnel, which at 31 miles (50 km) (24 miles (38 km) underwater) is the longest underwater tunnel in the world.

              England accounts for just over half of the total area of the UK, covering 130,395 square kilometres (50,350 sq mi). Most of the country consists of lowland terrain, with mountainous terrain north-west of the Tees-Exe line; including the Cumbrian Mountains of the Lake District, the Pennines and limestone hills of the Peak District, Exmoor and Dartmoor. The main rivers and estuaries are the Thames, Severn and the Humber. England's highest mountain is Scafell Pike (978 metres (3,209 ft)) in the Lake District. Its principal rivers are the Severn, Thames, Humber, Tees, Tyne, Tweed, Avon, Exe and Mersey.

              Scotland accounts for just under a third of the total area of the UK, covering 78,772 square kilometres (30,410 sq mi) and including nearly eight hundred islands, predominantly west and north of the mainland; notably the Hebrides, Orkney Islands and Shetland Islands. The topography of Scotland is distinguished by the Highland Boundary Fault – a geological rock fracture – which traverses Scotland from Arran in the west to Stonehaven in the east. The faultline separates two distinctively different regions; namely the Highlands to the north and west and the lowlands to the south and east. The more rugged Highland region contains the majority of Scotland's mountainous land, including Ben Nevis which at 1,343 metres (4,406 ft) is the highest point in the British Isles. Lowland areas – especially the narrow waist of land between the Firth of Clyde and the Firth of Forth known as the Central Belt – are flatter and home to most of the population including Glasgow, Scotland's largest city, and Edinburgh, its capital and political centre.
              A view of Ben Nevis in the distance, fronted by rolling plains


              Ben Nevis, in Scotland, is the highest point in the British Isles
              Wales accounts for less than a tenth of the total area of the UK, covering 20,779 square kilometres (8,020 sq mi). Wales is mostly mountainous, though South Wales is less mountainous than North and mid Wales. The main population and industrial areas are in South Wales, consisting of the coastal cities of Cardiff, Swansea and Newport, and the South Wales Valleys to their north. The highest mountains in Wales are in Snowdonia and include Snowdon (Welsh: Yr Wyddfa) which, at 1,085 metres (3,560 ft), is the highest peak in Wales. The 14, or possibly 15, Welsh mountains over 3,000 feet (914 m) high are known collectively as the Welsh 3000s. Wales has over 2,704 kilometres (1,680 miles) of coastline. Several islands lie off the Welsh mainland, the largest of which is Anglesey (Ynys Môn) in the northwest.

              Northern Ireland accounts for just 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. The highest peak in Northern Ireland is Slieve Donard in the Mourne Mountains at 852 metres (2,795 ft).

              Climate

              Main article: Climate of the United Kingdom
              The United Kingdom has a temperate climate, with plentiful rainfall all year round. The temperature varies with the seasons seldom dropping below −11 °C (12 °F) or rising above 35 °C (95 °F). The prevailing wind is from the south-west and bears frequent spells of mild and wet weather from the Atlantic Ocean, 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; especially in the west where winters are wet and even more so over high ground. Summers are warmest in the south-east 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.

              Administrative divisions

              Main article: Administrative geography 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 administrative unit encompassing the United Kingdom". Until the 19th century there was little change to those arrangements, but there has since been a constant evolution of role and function. 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 unlikely to be uniform either.

              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 upper-tier subdivisions of England are the nine Government office regions or European Union government office regions. One region, Greater London, has had a directly elected assembly and mayor since 2000 following popular support for the proposal in a referendum. 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. 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 wards.

              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 1,222; 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. The representative association of Scotland's local authorities is the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA).

              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. Elections are held every four years under the first-past-the-post system. 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.

              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. On 13 March 2008 the executive agreed on proposals to create 11 new councils and replace the present system. The next local elections were postponed until 2016 to facilitate this.

              Dependencies




              A view of the Caribbean Sea from the Cayman Islands, one of the world's foremost international financial centres and tourist destinations.
              Main articles: British Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies
              The United Kingdom has sovereignty over seventeen territories which do not form part of the United Kingdom itself: fourteen British Overseas Territories and three Crown Dependencies.

              The fourteen British Overseas Territories are: Anguilla; Bermuda; the British Antarctic Territory; the British 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 the Sovereign Base Areas on Cyprus. British claims in Antarctica are not universally recognised. 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. 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).

              The Crown Dependencies are British possessions of the Crown, as opposed to overseas territories of the UK. They comprise the Channel Island Bailiwicks of Jersey and Guernsey in the English Channel and the Isle of Man in the Irish Sea. Being independently administered jurisdictions they do not form part of the United Kingdom or of the European Union, although the UK government manages their foreign affairs and defence and the UK Parliament has the authority to legislate on their behalf. 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 Lieutenant-Governor). Since 2005 each Crown dependency has had a Chief Minister as its head of government.

              Politics

              Main articles: Politics of the United Kingdom, Monarchy of the United Kingdom and Elections in the United Kingdom
              Elderly lady with a yellow hat and grey hair is smiling in outdoor setting.


              Elizabeth II, Queen of the United Kingdom and the other Commonwealth realms
              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". The United Kingdom is one of only four countries in the world to have an uncodified constitution.[nb 9] 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.

              Government

              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 that meets in the Palace of Westminster 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, the UK's head of government, 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 they are formally appointed by the monarch to form Her Majesty's Government. By convention, the Queen respects the prime minister's decisions of government.
              Large sand-coloured building of Gothic design beside brown river and road bridge. The building has several large towers, including large clock-tower.


              The Palace of Westminster, seat of both houses of the Parliament of the United Kingdom
              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 Rt. Hon. David Cameron, leader of the Conservative Party, heads a coalition with the UK's third party, the Liberal Democrats. Cameron has been Prime Minister, First Lord of the Treasury and Minister for the Civil Service since 11 May 2010. For elections to the House of Commons, the UK is currently divided into 650 constituencies, each electing a single member of parliament 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.

              The UK's three major political parties are the Conservative Party, the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats. During the 2010 general election these three parties won 622 out of 650 seats available in the House of Commons. 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 Democratic Unionist Party, Social Democratic and Labour Party, Ulster Unionist Party and Sinn Féin (Northern Ireland only, though Sinn Féin also contests elections in the Republic of Ireland). 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. The current five Sinn Féin MPs have, however, made use of offices and other facilities available at Westminster. For elections to the European Parliament, the UK currently has 72 MEPs, elected in 12 multi-member constituencies.

              Devolved administrations

              Main articles: Devolution in the United Kingdom, Northern Ireland Executive, Scottish Government and Welsh Government
              Modern one-story building with grass on roof and large sculpted grass area in front. Behind are residential buildings in a mixture of styles.


              The Scottish Parliament Building in Holyrood is the seat of the Scottish Parliament.
              Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland each have their own devolved 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 MPs from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland can vote, sometimes decisively, on matters that only affect England. The McKay Commission reported on this matter in March 2013 recommending that laws affecting only England should need support from a majority of English MPs.

              The Scottish Government and Parliament have wide-ranging powers over any matter that has not been specifically reserved to the UK parliament, including education, healthcare, Scots law and local government. At the 2011 elections the SNP won re-election and achieved an overall majority in the Scottish parliament, with its leader, Alex Salmond, as First Minister of Scotland. In 2012, the UK and Scottish governments signed the Edinburgh Agreement setting out the terms for a referendum on Scottish independence in 2014.

              The Welsh Government and the National Assembly for Wales have more limited powers than those devolved to Scotland. The Assembly is able to legislate on devolved matters through Acts of the Assembly, which require no prior consent from Westminster. The 2011 elections resulted in a minority Labour administration led by Carwyn Jones.

              The Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly have powers similar to those devolved to Scotland. The Executive is led by a diarchy representing unionist and nationalist members of the Assembly. Currently, Peter Robinson (Democratic Unionist Party) and Martin McGuinness (Sinn Féin) are First Minister and deputy First Minister respectively. Devolution to Northern Ireland is contingent on participation by the Northern Ireland administration in the North-South Ministerial Council, where the Northern Ireland Executive cooperates and develops joint and shared policies with the Government of Ireland. The British and Irish governments co-operate on non-devolved matters affecting Northern Ireland through the British–Irish Intergovernmental Conference, which 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. Indeed, in 1972, the UK Parliament unilaterally prorogued the Parliament of Northern Ireland, setting a precedent relevant to contemporary devolved institutions. 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. 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.

              Law and criminal justice

              Main article: Law of the United Kingdom



              The Royal Courts of Justice of England and Wales
              The United Kingdom does not have a single legal system, as Article 19 of the 1706 Treaty of Union provided for the continuation of Scotland's separate legal system. Today the UK has three distinct systems of law: English law, Northern Ireland law and Scots law. A new Supreme Court of the United Kingdom came into being in October 2009 to replace the Appellate Committee of the House of Lords. The Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, including the same members as the Supreme Court, is the highest court of appeal for several independent Commonwealth countries, the British Overseas Territories and the Crown Dependencies.

              Both English law, which applies in England and Wales, and Northern Ireland law are based on common-law principles. 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). 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.



              The High Court of Justiciary – the supreme criminal court of Scotland.
              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, and the High Court of Justiciary, for criminal cases. The Supreme Court of the United Kingdom serves as the highest court of appeal for civil cases under Scots law. 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. 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.

              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 crime from 1995 to 2007/08, 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. 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. At the same time Scotland's prison population, at over 8,000, is at record levels and well above design capacity. The Scottish Prison Service, which reports to the Cabinet Secretary for Justice, manages Scotland's prisons. In 2006 a report by the Surveillance Studies Network found that the UK had the highest level of mass surveillance among industrialised western nations.

              Foreign relations

              Main article: Foreign relations of the United Kingdom



              The Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, David Cameron, and the President of the United States, Barack Obama, during the 2010 G-20 Toronto summit.
              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. The UK is also closely linked with the Republic of Ireland; the two countries share a Common Travel Area and co-operate through the British-Irish 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 engagements.

              Military




              Troopers of the Blues and Royals during the 2007 Trooping the Colour ceremony
              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. 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. 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 and Qatar.

              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 emerging victorious from such conflcts, 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. 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.

              Economy

              Main article: Economy of the United Kingdom



              The Bank of England – the central bank of the United Kingdom
              The UK has a partially regulated market economy. Based on market exchange rates the UK is today the sixth-largest 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. 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). Since 1997 the Bank of England's Monetary Policy Committee, headed by the Governor of the Bank of England, has been responsible for setting interest rates at the level necessary to achieve the overall inflation target for the economy that is set by the Chancellor each year.

              The UK service sector makes up around 73% of GDP. London is one of the three "command centres" of the global economy (alongside New York City and Tokyo), is the world's largest financial centre alongside New York, and has the largest city GDP in Europe. Edinburgh is also one of the largest financial centres in Europe. 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. The creative industries accounted for 7% GVA in 2005 and grew at an average of 6% per annum between 1997 and 2005.



              The Airbus A350 has its wings and engines manufactured in the UK.
              The Industrial Revolution started in the UK with an initial concentration on the textile industry, followed by other heavy industries such as shipbuilding, coal mining and steelmaking. The empire was exploited as an overseas market for British products, allowing the UK to dominate international trade in the 19th century. 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.

              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. The aerospace industry of the UK is the second- or third-largest national aerospace industry depending upon the method of measurement and has an annual turnover of around £20 billion. The pharmaceutical industry
              Source: Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_Kingdom )
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