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– on the European continent  (green & dark grey)

The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland[note 7] (commonly known as the United Kingdom, the UK, or Britain) is a sovereign state located off the northwestern coast of continental Europe. It is an island nation, spanning an archipelago including Great Britain, the northeastern part of the island of Ireland, and many smaller islands. Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK with a land border[note 8] with another sovereign state, sharing it with the Republic of Ireland. Apart from this land border, the UK is surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean, the North Sea, the English Channel and the Irish Sea.


The United Kingdom is a constitutional monarchy and unitary state. It is a country consisting of four countries: England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. It is governed by a parliamentary system with its seat of government in the capital city of London. There are three devolved national administrations of varying powers in Belfast, Cardiff and Edinburgh, the capitals of Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland respectively. The UK has three Crown Dependencies and fourteen overseas territories that are not constitutionally part of the UK.


The United Kingdom was created out of the union of the kingdoms of England, Ireland and Scotland. The three were joined in a personal union by the Union of the Crowns in 1603. On 1 May 1707, the United Kingdom of Great Britain was created by the political union of the Kingdom of England and the Kingdom of Scotland. Almost a century later the Kingdom of Ireland merged with the Kingdom of Great Britain to form the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. After the defeat of France in the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars (1792–1815), the UK emerged as the principal naval and economic power of the 19th century and remained a foremost power into the mid 20th century. After the First World War the British Empire expanded to become the largest empire in history, covering a fifth of the world's land surface and a quarter of its population, before falling into decline after the Second World War. British influence can still be observed in the language, culture and legal systems of many of its former colonies. The end of the 20th century saw major changes in the UK, with the establishment of devolved national administrations and the founding of the European Union.


The UK is a developed country, with the world's sixth largest economy by nominal GDP and the sixth 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, but the economic and social cost of two world wars and the decline of its empire in the latter half of the 20th century diminished its leading role in global affairs. The UK nevertheless remains a great power with leading economic, cultural, military, scientific and political influence. It is a recognised nuclear weapons state while its military expenditure ranks third or fourth in the world, depending on the method of calculation. It is a Member State of the European Union, a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, a member of the Commonwealth of Nations, G8, G20, NATO, OECD and the World Trade Organization.


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


The United Kingdom was created out of the union of the kingdoms of England, Ireland and Scotland. Between the 17th and 19th centuries a series of political events brought these countries into a close political union, with the three joining a personal union by the Union of the Crowns in 1603, when James VI, King of Scots inherited the Kingdoms of England and Ireland and moved his court from Edinburgh to London. However, at this point all three kingdoms retained their separate political institutions. On 1 May 1707, the United Kingdom of Great Britain was created by the political union of the Kingdom of England and the Kingdom of Scotland. This event was the result of the Treaty of Union that was agreed on 22 July 1706, and then ratified by both the Parliament of England and Parliament of Scotland each passing an Act of Union in 1707. Almost a century later the Kingdom of Ireland merged with the Kingdom of Great Britain to form the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland with the passing of the Act of Union 1800. Disputes within Ireland over the terms of Irish Home Rule led eventually to the partition of the island in 1921, with Dominion status for the Irish Free State in 1922 and Northern Ireland remaining part of the UK. As a result, in 1927, the formal title of the UK was changed to its current form, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.


In its first century, the United Kingdom played an important role in developing Western ideas of the parliamentary system as well as making significant contributions to literature, the arts, and science. The UK-led Industrial Revolution transformed the country and fuelled the growing British Empire. During this time the UK, like other great powers, was involved in colonial exploitation, including the Atlantic slave trade, although with the passing of the Slave Trade Act in 1807 the UK took a leading role in combating the trade in slaves.


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


After the defeat of France in the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars (1792–1815), the UK emerged as the principal naval and economic power of the 19th century (with London the largest city in the world from about 1830 to 1930) and remained a foremost power into the mid 20th century. Beside Russia, France and (after 1917) the USA, the British were one of the major powers opposing Germany and its allies in World War I (1914–18). Engaged in much of its empire, several regions in Europe and increasingly taking a major role on the Western front, the armed forces grew to over five million people.


The nation suffered an estimated two and a half million casualties and finished the war with a huge national debt. After the war the United Kingdom received the League of Nations mandate over former German and Ottoman colonies and the British Empire had expanded to its greatest extent, covering a fifth of the world's land surface and a quarter of its population. The Great Depression (1929–32) broke out at a time when the UK was still far from having recovered from the effects of the war and led to hardship and political and social unrest.


The United Kingdom was one of the three main Allies of World War II. Following the defeat of its European allies in the first year of the war, the United Kingdom continued the fight against Germany, which took form in these years with the Battle of Britain. After the victory, the UK was one of the Big Three powers that met to plan the postwar world. The war left the United Kingdom financially damaged. However, Marshall Aid and loans taken from both the United States and Canada helped the UK on the road to recovery.


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.


The immediate post-war years saw the establishment of the Welfare State, including among the world's first and most comprehensive public health services.[citation needed] Changes in government policy also brought people from all over the Commonwealth to create a multiethnic Britain.[citation needed] Although the new postwar limits of Britain's political role were confirmed by the Suez Crisis of 1956, the international spread of the English language meant the continuing influence of its literature and culture, while from the 1960s its popular culture also found influence abroad. Following a period of global economic slowdown and industrial strife in the 1970s, the 1980s saw the inflow of substantial North Sea oil revenues and economic growth.[citation needed] The premiership of Margaret Thatcher marked a significant change of direction from the post-war political and economic consensus.[citation needed]


Beginning in the 1960s a period of ethno-political conflict began in Northern Ireland known as the Troubles. Increasing pressures from nationalists for reform and from extreme unionists for No surrender led to increased communal strife. The British Army was deployed in 1969 and was, at first, warmly welcomed.[citation needed] However, relationships deteriorated and the emergence of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) and a campaign of violence by loyalist terror groups like the Ulster Defence Association brought Northern Ireland to the brink of Civil War. Some British politicians advocated British withdrawal from Ireland, but this policy was opposed by successive British and Irish governments, who feared a civil war that could engulf not only Northern Ireland but also the Republic of Ireland and Scotland.[citation needed] Direct Rule was introduced from London starting on 24 March 1972.[citation needed] By the 1990s, the failure of the IRA campaign to win mass public support or achieve its aim by British Withdrawal saw a move away from armed conflict to political engagement. Contacts initiatively been Adams and John Hume, leader of the Social Democratic and Labour Party, broadened out into all party negotiations, that in 1998 produced the 'Good Friday Agreement' which was approved by a majority of both communities in Northern Ireland and by the people of the Republic of Ireland. Under this Agreement, properly known as the Belfast Agreement, a new Northern Ireland Assembly was elected to form a Northern Irish parliament, and the constitution of the Republic of Ireland was amended to replace a claim it allegedly made to the territory of Northern Ireland while also acknowledging the nationalist desire for a united Ireland.[citation needed]


The United Kingdom was one of the 12 founding members of the European Union at its launch in 1992 with the signing of the Maastricht Treaty. Prior to that, it had been a member of the EU's forerunner, the European Economic Community (EEC), from 1973. The end of the 20th century saw major changes to the governance of the UK with the establishment of devolved national administrations for Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales following pre-legislative referenda.


Elderly lady with grey hair is smiling in outdoor setting.


The United Kingdom is a unitary state under a constitutional monarchy. Queen Elizabeth II is head of state of the UK as well as of fifteen other Commonwealth countries, putting the UK in a personal union with those other states. The United Kingdom has an uncodified constitution, as do only three other countries in the world. 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. 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.


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, and any Bill passed requires Royal Assent to become law. It is the ultimate legislative authority in the United Kingdom since the devolved parliament in Scotland and devolved assemblies in Northern Ireland, and Wales are not sovereign bodies and could be abolished by the UK parliament.


The position of Prime Minister, the UK's head of government, belongs to the Member of Parliament who can obtain the confidence of a majority in the House of Commons, usually the current leader of the largest political party in that chamber. The Prime Minister and Cabinet are formally appointed by the Monarch to form Her Majesty's Government, though the Prime Minister chooses the Cabinet, and by convention HM The Queen respects the Prime Minister's choices.


Large sand-coloured building of Gothic design beside brown river and road bridge. The building has several large towers, including large clock-tower.


The Cabinet is traditionally drawn from members of the Prime Minister's party in both legislative houses, and mostly from the House of Commons, to which they are responsible. Executive power is exercised by the Prime Minister and Cabinet, all of whom are sworn into Her Majesty's Most Honourable Privy Council, and become Ministers of the Crown. The Rt. Hon. David Cameron, leader of the Conservative Party, 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 constituency elects one Member of Parliament by simple plurality. General elections are called by the Monarch when the Prime Minister so advises. Though there is no minimum term for a Parliament, the Parliament Act (1911) requires that a new election must be called within five years of the previous general election.[citation needed]


The UK's three major political parties are the Conservative Party, the Labour Party, and the Liberal Democrats, who won between them 622 out of 650 seats available in the House of Commons: 621 seats at the 2010 general election and 1 more at the delayed by-election in Thirsk and Malton. Most of the remaining seats were won by minor parties that only contest elections in one part of the UK such as 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 Ireland). In accordance with party policy, no elected Sinn Féin Member of Parliament has ever attended the House of Commons to speak in the House on behalf of their constituents as Members of Parliament are required to take an oath of allegiance to the Monarch. However, the current five Sinn Féin MPs have since 2002 made use of the 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. Questions over sovereignty have been brought forward because of the UK's membership of the European Union.


Modern one-story building with grass on roof and large sculpted grass area in front. Behind are residential buildings in a mixture of styles.


Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales each has its own government or Executive, led by a First Minister, and a devolved, unicameral legislature. England, the largest country of the United Kingdom, has no 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 Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales can vote, sometimes decisively, on matters affecting England that are handled by devolved legislatures for their own constituencies.


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. Following their victory at the 2007 elections, the pro-independence Scottish National Party (SNP) formed a minority government with its leader, Alex Salmond, becoming First Minister of Scotland. The pro-union parties responded to the electoral success of the SNP by creating a Commission on Scottish Devolution which reported in 2009, recommending that additional powers should be devolved, including control of half the income tax raised in Scotland.


The Welsh Assembly Government and the National Assembly for Wales have more limited powers than those devolved to Scotland, although following the passing of the Government of Wales Act 2006, the Assembly can now legislate in some areas through Assembly Measures passed within clearly defined areas based upon, Legislative Competence Orders which can be granted on a case by case basis. The current Welsh Assembly Government was formed several weeks after the 2007 elections, following a brief period of minority administration, when Plaid Cymru joined Labour in a coalition government under the leadership of First Minister Rhodri Morgan until December 2009, after which Carwyn Jones became First Minister.


The Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly have powers closer to those already devolved to Scotland. The Northern Ireland Executive is led by a diarchy, currently First Minister Peter Robinson (Democratic Unionist Party) and deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness (Sinn Féin).




The United Kingdom does not have a single legal system since it was created by the political union of previously independent countries, with Article 19 of the Treaty of Union guaranteeing the continued existence of Scotland's separate legal system. Today the UK has three distinct systems of law: English law, Northern Ireland law and Scots law. Recent constitutional changes saw a new Supreme Court of the United Kingdom come into being in October 2009 to take on the appellate functions of 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 UK overseas territories, and the British crown dependencies.


Both English law, which applies in England and Wales, and Northern Ireland law are based on common-law principles.[citation needed] The essence of common law is that, subject to statute, the law is developed by judges in court, 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).[citation needed] 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, and often has persuasive effect in its other jurisdictions.[citation needed]




Scots law, a hybrid system based on both common-law and civil-law principles, applies in Scotland. 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 with no possibility of retrial.


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. In Scotland although the level of recorded crime in 2007/08 has fallen to the lowest for 25 years, the prison population, at over 8,000, is hitting record levels and is well above design capacity.




The structure of administrative divisions in the United Kingdom is multi-layered and non-uniform. The UK is made up of four constituent countries, England, Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales. Each has its own system of administrative and geographic demarcation. These divisions often have origins that pre-date the formation of the United Kingdom. Consequently, there is "no common stratum of administrative unit encompassing the United Kingdom". Until the 19th century there was little change to those arrangements, but since then there has been a constant evolution of role and function. Change did not occur in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales 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 the local arrangements. Legislation concerning local government in England is decided by the UK parliament and the government of the United Kingdom, because England does not have a 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 rejection by a referendum in 2004 of a proposed assembly in the North East region stopped this idea in its tracks. Below the region level, London consists of 32 London boroughs and the rest of England has either county councils and district councils or unitary authorities. Councillors are elected by First Past The Post in single member wards or by the multi-member plurality system in multi-member wards.


Local government in Northern Ireland has, since 1973, been organised into 26 district councils, each elected by single transferable vote with powers limited to services like collecting waste, controlling dogs, and maintaining parks and cemeteries. However, on 13 March 2008, the Executive agreed on proposals to create 11 new councils to replace the present system and the next local elections will be postponed until 2011 to facilitate this.


Local government in Scotland is divided on a basis of 32 council areas, with wide variation in both size and population. The cities of Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Dundee are separate council areas as also is Highland Council, which includes a third of Scotland's area but just over 200,000 people. The power invested in local authorities is administered by elected councillors, of which there are currently 1,222 who are each 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, including the cities of Cardiff, Swansea and Newport, which are separate unitary authorities in their own right. Elections are held every four years by First Past The Post with the most recent elections being in May 2008. The Welsh Local Government Association represents the interests of local authorities in Wales.



The United Kingdom has sovereignty over seventeen territories which do not form part of the United Kingdom itself, 14 British Overseas Territories[dead link][citation needed] and 3 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 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 667,018 square miles (1,728,000 km2) and a population of approximately 260,000 people. They are the remnants of the British Empire, several have specifically voted to remain British territories.


The Crown Dependencies are British possessions of the Crown, as opposed to overseas territories of the United Kingdom. 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, none forms 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. However, 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 head of government.




The United Kingdom is a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, a member of the Commonwealth of Nations, G8, G7, G20, NATO, OECD, WTO, Council of Europe, OSCE, and a member state of the European Union. The UK has placed a particular emphasis on its "Special Relationship" with the United States. Britain's other close allies include European Union and NATO members, Commonwealth nations and others such as Japan. Britain's global presence and influence is further amplified through its trading relations, official development assistance, and its armed forces, which maintain approximately eighty military installations and other deployments around the globe.[citation needed]


The United Kingdom fields one of the most technologically advanced and best trained armed forces in the world.[citation needed] According to various sources, including the Ministry of Defence, the UK has the third or fourth highest military expenditure in the world, despite only having the 25th largest military in terms of manpower. Total defence spending currently accounts for 2.5% of total national GDP. The British Army, Royal Navy and Royal Air Force are collectively known as the British Armed Forces and officially as HM Armed Forces. The three forces are managed by the Ministry of Defence and controlled by the Defence Council, chaired by the Secretary of State for Defence.


The UK maintains the largest air force and navy in the EU and second largest in NATO. The Royal Navy is a blue-water navy, currently one of only three, along with the French Navy and the United States Navy. The Ministry of Defence signed contracts worth £3.2bn to build two new supercarrier sized aircraft carriers on 3 July 2008.[100] In 2009, the British Army had a reported strength of 146,100, the Royal Air Force had 45,210 personnel and the Navy 39,320.[citation needed] The United Kingdom Special Forces, such as the Special Air Service and Special Boat Service, provide troops trained for quick, mobile, military responses in counter-terrorism, land, maritime and amphibious operations, often where secrecy or covert tactics are required. There are reserve forces supporting the Active military. These include the Territorial Army, the Royal Naval Reserve, Royal Marines Reserve and the Royal Auxiliary Air Force. This puts total active and reserve duty military personnel at approximately 435,500.[citation needed]


Convoy of Jeeps carrying camouflaged soldiers across desert.


The British Armed Forces are charged with protecting the United Kingdom and its overseas territories, promoting the United Kingdom'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, Diego Garcia, the Falkland Islands, Germany, Gibraltar, Kenya, Cyprus, and Qatar.[101]


Despite the United Kingdom's military capabilities, recent pragmatic defence policy has a stated assumption that "the most demanding operations" would be undertaken as part of a coalition.[102] Setting aside the intervention in Sierra Leone, operations in Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq may all be taken as precedent. The last war in which the British military fought alone was the Falklands War of 1982, in which they were victorious.


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


The total area of the United Kingdom is approximately 243,610 square kilometres (94,060 sq mi) consisting of the island of Great Britain, the northeastern one-sixth of the island of Ireland, and smaller surrounding islands. It lies between the North Atlantic Ocean and the North Sea, coming within 35 kilometres (22 mi) of the northwest coast of France, from which it is separated by the English Channel. As of 1993 10% of the UK was forested, 46% used for pastures, and 25% used for agriculture.[103]


Great Britain lies between latitudes 49° and 59° N (the Shetland Islands reach to nearly 61° N), and longitudes 8° W to 2° E. The Royal Greenwich Observatory, in London, is the defining point of the Prime Meridian. When measured directly north-south, Great Britain is a little over 1,100 kilometres (700 mi) in length and is a fraction under 500 kilometres (300 mi) at its widest[citation needed], but the greatest distance between two points is 1,350 kilometres (840 mi) between Land's End in Cornwall (near Penzance) and John o' Groats in Caithness (near Thurso)[citation needed]. Northern Ireland shares a 360-kilometre (224 mi) land boundary with the Republic of Ireland. The coastline of Great Britain is 17,820 kilometres (11,073 mi) long.[104] It is connected to continental Europe by the Channel Tunnel.[citation needed]


England accounts for just over half of the total area of the UK, covering 130,395 square kilometres (50,350 sq mi).[105] Most of the country consists of lowland terrain,[103] 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)),[103] which is in the Lake District. Its principal rivers are the Severn, Thames, Humber, Tees, Tyne, Tweed, Avon, Exe and Mersey.[103] England has a number of large towns and cities, including six of the top 50 Larger Urban Zones in the European Union.[citation needed]


A view of Ben Nevis in the distance, fronted by rolling plains


Scotland accounts for just under a third of the total area of the UK, covering 78,772 square kilometres (30,410 sq mi),[106] including nearly eight hundred islands,[107] 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 the Scottish mainland from Helensburgh to Stonehaven[citation needed]. 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.[108] 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, the capital and political centre of the country.


Wales accounts for less than a tenth of the total area of the UK, covering 20,758 square kilometres (8,010 sq mi).[citation needed] 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 kilometres (3,559,711 ft)) is the highest peak in Wales.[103] The 14 (or possibly 15) Welsh mountains over 3,000 feet (914 m) high are known collectively as the Welsh 3000s. Wales has over 1,200 km (750 miles) of coastline. There are several islands off the Welsh mainland, the largest of which is Anglesey (Ynys Môn) in the northwest. Northern Ireland accounts for just 14,160 square kilometres (5,470 sq mi) and is mostly hilly. It includes Lough Neagh, at 388 square kilometres (150 sq mi), the largest body of water in the UK and Ireland.[109] The highest peak in Northern Ireland is Slieve Donard at 852 metres (2,795 ft) in the Mourne Mountains.[103]


The United Kingdom has a temperate climate, with plentiful rainfall all year round. The temperature varies with the seasons but seldom drops below −10 °C (14.0 °F) or rises above 35 °C (95 °F). The prevailing wind is from the southwest, bearing frequent spells of mild and wet weather from the Atlantic Ocean. Eastern parts are most sheltered from this wind and are therefore the driest. Atlantic currents, warmed by the Gulf Stream, bring mild winters, especially in the west, where winters are wet, especially over high ground. Summers are warmest in the south east of England, being closest to the European mainland, and coolest in the north. Snowfall can occur in winter and early spring, though it rarely settles to great depth away from high ground.




The UK has a partially regulated free market economy, somewhere between the US and continental Europe[clarification needed]. 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, after having fallen behind France in 2008 for the first time in over a decade.[113] In recent years, the UK economy has been managed in accordance with principles of market liberalisation and low taxation and regulation. Government involvement throughout the economy is exercised by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. 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.[114] In July 2007, the UK had government debt at 35.5% of GDP.[115] This figure rose to 56.8% of GDP by July 2009.[116] On 23 January 2009, Government figures from the Office for National Statistics showed that the UK was officially in recession for the first time since 1991.[117] It entered a recession in the final quarter of 2008, accompanied by rising unemployment which increased from 5.2% in May 2008 to 7.6% in May 2009. The unemployment rate among 18 to 24-year-olds has risen from 11.9% to 17.3%.[118]


The Industrial Revolution started in the UK with an initial concentration on heavy industries such as shipbuilding, coal mining, steel production, and textiles.[citation needed] The empire created an overseas market for British products, allowing the UK to dominate international trade in the 19th century. However, 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 one-sixth of national output in 2003.[119]




The currency of the UK is the pound sterling, represented by the symbol £. The Bank of England is the central bank, responsible for issuing currency. Banks in Scotland and Northern Ireland retain the right to issue their own notes, subject to retaining enough Bank of England notes in reserve to cover the issue. Pound sterling is also used as a reserve currency by other governments and institutions, and is the third-largest after the U.S. dollar and the euro.[120] The UK chose not to join the euro at the currency's launch. In 2007, then-Prime Minister Gordon Brown ruled out membership for the foreseeable future, saying that the decision not to join had been right for Britain and for Europe.[121] The government of former Prime Minister Tony Blair had pledged to hold a public referendum for deciding membership should "five economic tests" be met. In 2005, more than half (55%) of the UK were against adopting the currency, while 30% were in favour.[122]


London is a major centre for international business and commerce and is the leader of the three "command centres" for the global economy (along with New York City and Tokyo).[123] It is the world's largest financial centre with the London Stock Exchange, the London International Financial Futures and Options Exchange, and the Lloyd's of London insurance market all based in the City of London. London is also a major legal centre, with four of the six largest law firms in the world headquartered there.[124] It has the largest concentration of foreign bank branches in the world. Many multinational companies that are not primarily UK-based have chosen to site their European or rest-of-world headquarters in London: an example is the US financial services firm Citigroup. The Scottish capital, Edinburgh, has one of the large financial centres of Europe[125] and is the headquarters of the Royal Bank of Scotland Group, one of the world's largest banks. The creative industries accounted for 7% GVA in 2005 and grew at an average of 6% per annum between 1997 and 2005.[126]




The British motor industry is a significant part of the manufactoring sector, although it has diminished with the collapse of the MG Rover Group and most of the industry is foreign owned. Civil and defence aircraft production is led by BAE Systems, the second largest defence contractor in the world,[127] and the continental European firm EADS, the owner of Airbus. Rolls-Royce holds a major share of the global aerospace engines market. The chemical and pharmaceutical industry is strong in the UK, with the world's second and sixth largest pharmaceutical firms (GlaxoSmithKline and AstraZeneca, respectively)[128] being based in the UK.


The UK has a small coal reserve along with significant, yet continuously declining[129] natural gas and oil reserves. In 2004, total UK coal consumption (including imports) was 61 million tonnes,[130] allowing the UK to be self sufficient in coal for just over 6.5 years, although at present extraction rates it would take 20 years to mine.[131] An alternative to coal-fired electricity generation is underground coal gasification (UCG). Identified onshore areas that have the potential for UGC amount to between 7 billion tonnes and 16 billion tonnes.[132] Based on current UK coal consumption, these volumes represent reserves that could last the UK between 200 and 400 years.[133]


The UK service sector, however, has grown substantially, and now makes up about 73% of GDP.[134] The service sector is dominated by financial services, especially in banking and insurance. Tourism is very important to the British economy. With over 27 million tourists arriving in 2004, the United Kingdom is ranked as the sixth major tourist destination in the world.[135] London, by a considerable margin, is the most visited city in the world with 15.6 million visitors in 2006, ahead of 2nd placed Bangkok (10.4 million visitors) and 3rd placed Paris (9.7 million).[136]




The poverty line in the UK is commonly defined as being 60% of the median household income.[note 9] In 2007-2008, 13.5 million people, or 22% of the population, lived below this line. This is a higher level of relative poverty than all but four other EU members.[139] In the same year, 4.0 million children, 31% of the total, lived in households below the poverty line, after housing costs were taken into account. This is a decrease of 400,000 children since 1998-1999.[140]


Across the UK, there is a radial road network of 46,904 kilometres (29,145 mi) of main roads with a motorway network of 3,497 kilometres (2,173 mi).[citation needed] There are a further 213,750 kilometres (132,818 mi) of paved roads. The rail network of 16,116 km (10,072 miles) in Great Britain and 303 route km (189 route mi) in Northern Ireland carries over 18,000 passenger trains and 1,000 freight trains daily.[citation needed] Plans are now being considered to build new high speed railway lines by 2025.[141] London Heathrow Airport, located 15 miles (24 km) west of the capital, is the UK's busiest airport and has the most international passenger traffic of any airport in the world.[137][138] It is the hub for the flag carrier British Airways, as well as Virgin Atlantic, and BMI.[142]


A Census occurs simultaneously in all parts of the UK every ten years.[143] The Office for National Statistics is responsible for collecting data for England and Wales with the General Register Office for Scotland and the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency each being responsible for censuses in their respective countries.[144] At the most recent census in 2001, the total population of the United Kingdom was 58,789,194, the third largest in the European Union, the fifth largest in the Commonwealth and the twenty-first largest in the world. By mid-2009, this was estimated to have grown to 61,792,000.[145] In 2008, natural population growth overtook net migration as the main contributor to population growth for the first time since 1998.[146] Between 2001 and 2008, the population increased by an average annual rate of 0.5 per cent. This compares to 0.3 per cent per year in the period 1991 to 2001, and 0.2 per cent in the decade 1981 to 1991.[146] Published in 2008, the mid-2007 population estimates revealed that, for the first time, the UK was home to more people of pensionable age than children under the age of 16.[147]


England's population in mid-2008 was estimated to be 51.44 million.[146] It is one of the most densely populated countries in the world with 383 people resident per square kilometre in mid-2003,[148] with a particular concentration in London and the South East.[149] The mid-2008 estimates put Scotland's population at 5.17 million, Wales at 2.99 million and Northern Ireland at 1.78 million,[146] with much lower population densities than England. Compared to England's 383 inhabitants per square kilometre (990 /sq mi), the corresponding figures were 142 /km2 (370 /sq mi) for Wales, 125 /km2 (320 /sq mi) for Northern Ireland and just 65 /km2 (170 /sq mi) for Scotland in mid-2003.[148] Northern Ireland had the fastest growing population in percentage terms of all of the four constituent countries of the UK in each of the four years to mid-2008.[146]


In 2008, the average total fertility rate (TFR) across the UK was 1.96 children per woman.[150] 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,[151] below the replacement rate of 2.1, but higher than the 2001 record low of 1.63.[150] Scotland had the lowest fertility at only 1.8 children per woman, while Northern Ireland had the highest at 2.11 children in 2008.[150]


The capitals of the individual countries of the UK are: Belfast (Northern Ireland), Cardiff (Wales), Edinburgh (Scotland) and London (England); the latter is also the capital of the UK as a whole.


The largest conurbations are:


Historically, indigenous British people were thought to be descended from the varied ethnic stocks that settled there before the 11th century; the Celts, Romans, Anglo-Saxons, Norse and the Normans. Recent genetic studies have shown that more than 50 percent of England's gene pool contains Germanic Y chromosomes,[152] though recent genetic analysis indicates that "about 75 per cent 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 people.[153][154][155]


Britain 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,[156] and the oldest Chinese community in Europe, dating to the arrival of Chinese seamen in the nineteenth century.[157] Small numbers of African migrants are recorded as living in England during Henry VIII's reign, with one of the Tudor monarch's trumpeters recorded as being African.[158] In 1950 there were probably fewer than 20,000 non-white residents in Britain, almost all born overseas.[159]


Since 1945, substantial immigration from Africa, the Caribbean and South Asia has been a legacy of ties forged by the British Empire. Migration from new EU member states in Central and Eastern Europe since 2004 has resulted in growth in these population groups, but, as of 2008, the trend is reversing and many of these migrants are returning home, leaving the size of these groups unknown.[160] As of 2001, 92.1% of the population identified themselves as White, leaving 7.9%[161] of the UK population identifying themselves as mixed race or ethnic minority.


Ethnic diversity varies significantly across the UK. 30.4% of London's population[162] and 37.4% of Leicester's[163] was estimated to be non-white as of June 2005, 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.[164] As of 2007, 22% of primary and 17.7% of secondary pupils at state schools in England were from ethnic minority families.[165][166]



The UK does not de jure have an official language but the predominant spoken language is English, a West Germanic language descended from Old English which features a large number of borrowings from Old Norse, Norman French and Latin. Largely because of the British Empire, the English language has spread across the world, and become the international language of business as well as the most widely taught second language.[168]


Scots, a language descended from early northern Middle English, is recognised at European level.[169] There are also four Celtic languages in use in the UK: Welsh, Irish, Scottish Gaelic and Cornish. In the 2001 Census over a fifth (21%) of the population of Wales said they could speak Welsh,[170] an increase from the 1991 Census (18%).[171] In addition, it is estimated that about 200,000 Welsh speakers live in England.[172]


The 2001 census in Northern Ireland showed that 167,487 (10.4%) people "had some knowledge of Irish" (see Irish language in Northern Ireland), almost exclusively in the Catholic/nationalist 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.[173] The number of schoolchildren being taught in Welsh, Gaelic and Irish is increasing.[174] Welsh and Scottish Gaelic are also spoken by small groups around the globe with some Gaelic still spoken in Nova Scotia, Canada (especially Cape Breton Island), and Welsh in Patagonia, Argentina.[citation needed]


Across the United Kingdom, it is generally compulsory for pupils to study a second language to some extent: up to the age of 14 in England,[175] and up to age 16 in Scotland. French and German are the two most commonly taught second languages in England and Scotland. In Wales, all pupils up to age 16 are either taught in Welsh or taught Welsh as a second language.[176]




The Treaty of Union that led to the formation of the United Kingdom ensured that there would be a Protestant succession as well as a link between church and state that still remains. Christianity is the largest religion, followed by Islam, Hinduism, Sikhism and then Judaism in terms of number of adherents. In the 2001 Census 71.6% of respondents said that Christianity was their religion,[177] however a Tearfund survey showed only one in ten Britons actually attend church weekly.[178] 9.1 million (15% of the UK population) claimed no religion, with a further 4.3 million (7% of the UK population) not stating a religious preference.[179] Between 2004 and 2008, the Office for National Statistics reported that the number of Christians in Great Britain (rather than the UK as a whole) fell by more than 2 million.[180]


The largest religious group in England is Christianity, with the Church of England (Anglican) the Established Church:[181] the church retains a representation in the UK Parliament and the British monarch is a member of the church (required under Article 2 of the Treaty of Union) as well as its Supreme Governor.[182] The Church of England also retains the right to draft legislative measures (related to religious administration) through the General Synod that can then be passed into law by Parliament.[183] The Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales is the second largest Christian church with around five million members, mainly in England.[184] There are also growing Orthodox, Evangelical and Pentecostal churches, with Pentecostal churches in England now third after the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church in terms of church attendance.[185]


The largest religious group in Scotland is also Christianity, though the presbyterian Church of Scotland (known informally as The Kirk), is recognised as the national church.[186] It is not subject to state control and the British monarch is an ordinary member, required to swear an oath to "maintain and preserve the Protestant Religion and Presbyterian Church Government" upon his or her accession.[187] The Roman Catholic Church in Scotland is Scotland's second largest Christian church, representing a sixth of the population.[188] There is also a Scottish Episcopal Church, which is part of the Anglican Communion.[189]




The Church in Wales is 'disestablished' but remains in the Anglican Communion. Baptist Union of Wales, Methodism and the Presbyterian Church of Wales are present in Wales as well. The main religious groups in Northern Ireland are organised on an all-Ireland basis.[191] Though Protestants and Anglicans are in the overall majority,[192] the Roman Catholic Church of Ireland is the largest single church. The Presbyterian Church in Ireland is the second largest church followed by the Church of Ireland (Anglican) which was disestablished in the nineteenth century.


At the 2001 census, there were 1,536,015 Muslims in England and Wales,[193] forming 3% of the population. Muslims in Scotland numbered 42,557 representing 0.84% of the population.[194] According to a Labour Force Survey estimate, the total number of Muslims in Great Britain in 2008 was 2,422,000, around 4% of the total population.[180] There were a further 1,943 Muslims in Northern Ireland.[195]


Over 1 million people follow religions of Indian origin: 560,000 Hindus, 340,000 Sikhs with about 150,000 practising Buddhism.[196] Leicester houses one of the world's few Jain temples that are outside of India.[197] Today British Jews number around 300,000 with the UK having the fifth largest Jewish community worldwide.[198]




Throughout its history, Britain has experienced successive waves of invasion and migration, involving in turn Celts, Anglo-Saxons, Vikings, Normans, and French Huguenots. Jewish communities formed after Jews were encouraged to settle there by William the Conqueror.[199] The Great Famine brought a large influx of Irish immigrants.[200] Over 120,000 Polish veterans settled in Britain after World War II, unable to return home.[201] In the twentieth century, significant immigration from the British Empire occurred, driven largely by post-Second World War labour shortages. Many of these migrants came from the West Indies and from the Indian subcontinent.[202]


The proportion of foreign-born people in the UK remains slightly below that of some other European countries,[203] although immigration is now contributing to a rising population,[204] accounting for about half of the population increase between 1991 and 2001. Analysis of Office for National Statistics data shows that 2.3 million net migrants moved to the UK in the period 1991 to 2006,[205][206] 84 per cent of them from outside Europe.[207] In 2008 it was predicted that migration would add 7 million to the UK population by 2031,[208] though these figures are disputed.[209] The latest provisional official figures show that in 2009, 567,000 people arrived to live in the UK whilst 371,000 left, meaning that net inward migration was 196,000.[210][211]



At least 5.5 million British-born people are living abroad,[212][213][214] with Australia, Spain, the United States, and Canada being the top four destinations.[212][215] Emigration was an important feature of British society in the nineteenth century. Between 1815 and 1930 around 11.4 million people emigrated from Britain and 7.3 million from Ireland. By the end of the twentieth century, it has been estimated, some 300 million people of British and Irish descent were permanently settled around the globe.[216]


A record 203,790 foreign nationals became British citizens in 2009.[217] Also in 2009, 194,780 people were granted permanent settlement rights, of whom people from the Indian subcontinent accounted for 34 per cent. Of the rest, 25 per cent were from Africa and 21 per cent from elsewhere in Asia.[210][218] 24.7 per cent of babies born in England and Wales in 2009 were born to mothers who were born outside the UK, according to official statistics released in 2010.[219]


Citizens of the European Union have the right to live and work in any member state, including the UK.[220] Transitional arrangements apply to Romanians and Bulgarians whose countries joined the EU in January 2007.[221] Research conducted by the Migration 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, with two-thirds being Polish, but that many have returned home, with the result that the number of nationals of the new member states in the UK increased by some 700,000 over the same period.[222][223] The late-2000s recession in the UK reduced the economic incentive for Poles to migrate to the UK,[224] with the migration becoming temporary and circular.[225] In 2009, for the first time since the enlargement, more nationals of the eight Central and Eastern European states that joined the EU in 2004 left the UK than arrived.[226]


The UK government is currently introducing a points-based immigration system for immigration from outside of the European Economic Area that will replace existing schemes, including the Scottish Government's Fresh Talent Initiative.[citation needed] In June 2010, the Conservative-Liberal Democrat Coalition government brought in a temporary cap on immigration of those entering the UK from outside the EU, with the limit set as 24,100, in order to stop an expected rush of applications before a permanent cap is imposed in April 2011.[227] The cap has caused tension within the coalition, with business secretary Vince Cable arguing that it is harming British businesses.[228]




Education in the United Kingdom is a devolved matter, with each country having a separate education system. British universities contain some of the best and oldest in the world.


Education in England is the responsibility of the Secretary of State for Education, though the day to day administration and funding of state schools is the responsibility of Local Authorities (previously named Local Education Authorities).[229] Universal state education in England and Wales was introduced for primary level in 1870 and secondary level in 1900.[230] Education is mandatory from ages five to sixteen (15 if born in late July or August). The majority of children are educated in state-sector schools, only a small proportion of which select on the grounds of academic ability. State schools which are allowed to select pupils according to intelligence and academic ability can achieve comparable results to the most selective private schools: out of the top ten performing schools in terms of GCSE results in 2006 two were state-run grammar schools. Despite a fall in actual numbers, the proportion of children in England attending private schools has risen to over 7%.[231] However over half of students at the leading universities of Cambridge and Oxford had attended state schools.[232] England has some of the top universities in the world; University of Cambridge, University of Oxford, Imperial College London and University College London are ranked in the global top 10 in the 2008 THE–QS World University Rankings.[233] Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) rated pupils in England 7th in the world for Maths, and 6th for Science. The results put England's pupils ahead of other European countries, including Germany and Scandinavian countries.[234]




Education in Scotland is the responsibility of the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning, with day to day administration and funding of state schools the responsibility of Local Authorities. Two non-departmental 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;[236] and Learning and Teaching Scotland provides advice, resources and staff development to the education community to promote curriculum development and create a culture of innovation, ambition and excellence.[237] Scotland first legislated for compulsory education in 1496.[238] The proportion of children in Scotland attending private schools is just over 4%, although it has been rising slowly in recent years.[239] Scottish students who attend Scottish universities pay neither tuition fees nor graduate endowment charges as the fees were abolished in 2001 and the graduate endowment scheme was abolished in 2008.[240]


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.[241] The Welsh Assembly 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.[242] There are plans to increase the provision of Welsh Medium schools as part of the policy of having a fully bilingual Wales.




Healthcare in the United Kingdom is a devolved matter. England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales each has its own system of private and publicly funded healthcare, together with alternative, holistic and complementary treatments. Public healthcare is provided to all UK permanent residents and is free at the point of need being paid for from general taxation. Taken together, the World Health Organisation, in 2000, ranked the provision of healthcare in the United Kingdom as fifteenth best in Europe and eighteenth in the world.[243][244]


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 Royal Colleges. However, political and operational responsibility for healthcare lies with four national executives; healthcare in England is the responsibility of Her Majesty's 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, resulting in contrasts.[245][246]


Since 1979, expenditure on healthcare has been increased significantly to bring it closer to the European Union average.[247] The UK spends around 8.4 per cent of its gross domestic product on healthcare, which is 0.5 per cent below the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development average and about one per cent below the average of the European Union.[248]


The culture of the United Kingdom—British culture— may be described as informed by its history as a developed island country, major power, and also as 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 such as Canada, Australia, India, and the United States.


The United Kingdom has been influential in the development of cinema, with the Ealing Studios claiming to be the oldest studios in the world.[249] The BFI Top 100 British films is a poll conducted by the British Film Institute which ranks what they consider to be the 100 greatest British films of all time.[250] Despite a history of important and successful productions, the industry is characterised by an ongoing debate about its identity, and the influences of American and European cinema. Particularly between British and American film, many films are often co-produced or share actors with many British actors now featuring regularly in Hollywood films. Many Hollywood films based on British people, stories or events, such as RMS Titanic, Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings, have had enormous worldwide commercial success, and further British influence can be seen with the 'English Cycle' of Disney animated films which feature Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, The Jungle Book, Robin Hood, The Hundred and One Dalmatians, The Sword in the Stone, The Rescuers and Winnie the Pooh.[251]




'British literature' refers to literature associated with the United Kingdom, the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands as well as to literature from England, Wales and Scotland prior to the formation of the United Kingdom. Most British literature is in the English language. The UK publishes some 206,000 books each year, making it the largest publisher of books in the world.[252]


The English playwright and poet William Shakespeare is widely regarded as the greatest dramatist of all time.[253][254][255] Among the earliest English writers are Geoffrey Chaucer (14th century), Thomas Malory (15th century), Sir Thomas More (16th century), and John Milton (17th century). In the 18th century, Samuel Richardson is often credited with inventing the modern novel. In the 19th century, there followed further innovation by Jane Austen, the gothic novelist Mary Shelley, children's writer Lewis Carroll, the Brontë sisters, the social campaigner Charles Dickens, the naturalist Thomas Hardy, the realism of George Eliot, the visionary poet William Blake and romantic poet William Wordsworth.


Twentieth century writers include the science fiction novelist H. G. Wells, writers of children's classics Rudyard Kipling, A. A. Milne, Roald Dahl, the controversial D. H. Lawrence, the modernist Virginia Woolf, the satirist Evelyn Waugh, the prophetic novelist George Orwell, the popular novelist Graham Greene, crime novelist Agatha Christie, and the poets Ted Hughes and John Betjeman. Most recently, the children's fantasy Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling has recalled the popularity of J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis.


Scotland's contribution includes the detective writer Arthur Conan Doyle, romantic literature by Sir Walter Scott, children's writer J. M. Barrie and the epic adventures of Robert Louis Stevenson. It has also produced the celebrated poet Robert Burns, as well as William McGonagall, regarded by many as one of the world's worst.[256] 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, is UNESCO's first worldwide City of Literature.[257]




The oldest known poem from the area now known as Scotland, Y Gododdin, was composed in Cumbric or Old Welsh in the late sixth century and contains the earliest known reference to King Arthur.[citation needed] A great role in the development of Arthurian legend, and early development of British history, was played by Geoffrey of Monmouth.[citation needed] The greatest Welsh poet of all time is generally held to be Dafydd ap Gwilym.[citation needed] Owing to the dominance of the Welsh language in Wales until the late nineteenth century, the majority of Welsh literature was in Welsh, and much of the prose was religious in character; Daniel Owen is credited as the first Welsh-language novelist, publishing Rhys Lewis in 1885. In the twentieth century, the poets R. S. Thomas and Dylan Thomas became well known for their English-language poetry. Leading Welsh novelists include Richard Llewellyn and Kate Roberts. Authors from other nationalities, particularly from Ireland, or from Commonwealth countries, 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 and Ezra Pound, and more recently British authors born abroad such as Kazuo Ishiguro and Sir Salman Rushdie.


In theatre, Shakespeare's contemporaries Christopher Marlowe and Ben Jonson added depth. More recently Alan Ayckbourn, Harold Pinter, Michael Frayn, Tom Stoppard and David Edgar have combined elements of surrealism, realism and radicalism.




The prominence of the English language gives the UK media a widespread international dimension. There are five major nationwide television channels in the UK: BBC One, BBC Two, ITV, Channel 4 and Five—currently transmitted by analogue and digital terrestrial, free-to-air signals with the latter three channels funded by commercial advertising. In Wales, S4C, the Welsh Fourth Channel, replaces Channel 4, carrying Welsh language programmes at peak times. It also transmits Channel 4 programmes at other times.


The BBC, founded in 1922, is the UK's publicly funded radio, television and internet broadcasting corporation, and is the oldest and largest broadcaster in the world.[259][260] It operates several television channels and radio stations in both the UK and abroad. The BBC's international television news service, BBC World News, is broadcast throughout the world and the BBC World Service radio network is broadcast in thirty-three languages globally, as well as services in Welsh on BBC Radio Cymru and programmes in Gaelic on BBC Radio nan Gàidheal in Scotland and Irish in Northern Ireland.


The domestic services of the BBC are funded by the television licence.[citation needed] The international targeted BBC World Service Radio is funded by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the international television broadcast services are operated by BBC Worldwide on a commercial subscription basis over cable and satellite services. It is this commercial arm of the BBC that forms half of UKTV along with Virgin Media.[citation needed]


The UK now has a large number of digital terrestrial channels including a further six from the BBC, five from ITV and three from Channel 4, and one from S4C which is solely in Welsh, among a variety of others. The vast majority of digital cable television services are provided by Virgin Media with satellite television available from Freesat or British Sky Broadcasting and free-to-air digital terrestrial television by Freeview. The entire UK will switch to digital by 2012.[citation needed]




Radio in the UK is dominated by BBC Radio, which operates ten national networks and over forty local radio stations. The most popular radio station, by number of listeners, is BBC Radio 2, closely followed by BBC Radio 1. There are hundreds of mainly local commercial radio stations across the country, offering a variety of music or talk formats. The Internet country code top-level domain (ccTLD) for Internet in the United Kingdom is .uk. The most popular ".uk" website is the British version of Google, followed by BBC Online.[261]


Traditionally, British newspapers could be split into quality, serious-minded newspaper (usually referred to as "broadsheets" because of their large size) and the more populist, tabloid varieties. For convenience of reading, many traditional broadsheets have switched to a more compact-sized format, traditionally used by tabloids. The Sun has the highest circulation of any daily newspaper in the UK: 3.1 million, approximately a quarter of the market.[262] Its sister paper, the News of the World has the highest circulation in the Sunday newspaper market, and traditionally focuses on celebrity-led stories.[262] The Daily Telegraph, a centre-right broadsheet paper, is the highest-selling of the "quality" newspapers.[262] The Guardian is a more liberal "quality" broadsheet and the Financial Times is the main business newspaper, printed on distinctive salmon-pink broadsheet paper.


First printed in 1737, The News Letter from Belfast, is the oldest known English-language daily newspaper still in publication today. One of its fellow Northern Irish competitors, The Irish News, has been twice ranked as the best regional newspaper in the United Kingdom, in 2006 and 2007.[263]


Aside from newspapers, British magazines and journals have achieved worldwide circulation including The Economist, Nature, and "New Scientist". Scotland has a distinct tradition of newspaper readership (see list of newspapers in Scotland). The tabloid Daily Record has the highest circulation of any daily newspaper outselling The Scottish Sun by four to one while its sister paper, the Sunday Mail similarly leads the Sunday newspaper market. The leading "quality" daily newspaper in Scotland is The Herald, though it is the sister paper of The Scotsman, the Scotland on Sunday, that leads in the Sunday newspaper market.[264]




Various styles of music are popular in the UK, from the indigenous folk music of England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, 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 librettist Sir W. S. Gilbert), Ralph Vaughan Williams, and Benjamin Britten, 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[268] and some of his best works, such as Messiah, were written in the English language.[269] A prolific composer of musical theatre whose works have dominated London's West End for a number of years and have travelled to Broadway in New York, Andrew Lloyd Webber has achieved enormous worldwide commercial success.[270]


Prominent British contributors to have influenced popular music over the last 50 years include The Beatles, Queen, Cliff Richard, Elton John, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd and The Rolling Stones, all of whom have world wide record sales of 200 million or more.[271][272][273][274][275] [276][277] The Beatles have international record sales of more than one billion.[265][266][267] According to research by Guinness World Records, eight of the ten acts with the most UK chart singles are British: Status Quo, Queen, The Rolling Stones, UB40, Depeche Mode, the Bee Gees, the Pet Shop Boys and the Manic Street Preachers.[278] More recent UK music acts that have had international success include Coldplay, Radiohead, Oasis, Spice Girls, Amy Winehouse, Muse and Gorillaz.


A number of UK cities are known for their music scenes. Acts from Liverpool have had more UK chart number one hit singles per capita (54) than any other city worldwide.[279] Glasgow's contribution to the music scene 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.[280]


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'.[citation needed] 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. Britain is 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.[citation needed]


Other eminent philosophers from the UK and the states that preceded it include Duns Scotus, John Lilburne, Mary Wollstonecraft, Sir Francis Bacon, Adam Smith, Thomas Hobbes, William of Ockham, Bertrand Russell and Alfred Jules Ayer. Foreign-born philosophers who settled in the UK include Isaiah Berlin, Karl Marx, Karl Popper, and Ludwig Wittgenstein.






The United Kingdom led the industrial revolution and has produced scientists and engineers credited with important advances, including;


Notable civil engineering projects, whose pioneers included Isambard Kingdom Brunel, contributed to the world's first national railway transport system.[citation needed] Other advances pioneered in the UK include the marine chronometer, the jet engine, modern bicycle, electric lighting, steam turbine, electromagnet, stereo sound, motion picture, the screw propeller, the internal combustion engine, military radar, electronic computer, photography, aeronautics, soda water, IVF, nursing, antiseptic surgery, vaccination, antibiotics.


Scientific journals produced in the UK include Nature, the British Medical Journal and The Lancet. In 2006, it was reported that the UK provided 9 percent of the world's scientific research papers and a 12 per cent share of citations, the second highest in the world after the US.[289] In the 1950s, the UK had more Physics Nobel Prizes than any other nation,[290] despite its relatively small size.


The Royal Academy is located in London. Other major schools of art include the Slade School of Fine Art; 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; the Glasgow School of Art, and Goldsmiths, University of London. This commercial venture is one of Britain's foremost visual arts organisations. Major British artists include Sir Joshua Reynolds, Thomas Gainsborough, John Constable, William Blake, J. M. W. Turner, William Morris, L. S. Lowry, Francis Bacon, Lucian Freud, David Hockney, Gilbert and George, Richard Hamilton, Peter Blake, Howard Hodgkin, Antony Gormley, and Anish Kapoor.


During the late 1980s and 1990s, the Saatchi Gallery in London brought to public attention a group of multigenre artists who would become 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.




Major sports including association football, rugby league, rugby union, rowing, boxing, badminton, cricket, tennis and golf originated, or were substantially developed, in the United Kingdom and the states that preceded it. A 2006 poll found that football is the most popular sport in the United Kingdom.[292] In international competitions, separate teams represent England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland in most team sports, as well as at the Commonwealth Games. (In sporting contexts, these teams can be referred to collectively as the Home Nations.) However, there are occasions where a single sports team represents the United Kingdom, including at the Olympics where the UK is represented by the Great Britain team.


Each of the Home Nations has its own football association, national team and league system, though a few clubs play outside their country's respective systems for a variety of historical and logistical reasons. England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland compete as separate countries in international competition and, as a consequence, the UK does not compete as a single team in football events at the Olympic Games.[citation needed] There are proposals to have a UK team take part in the 2012 Summer Olympics but the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish football associations have declined to participate, fearing that it would undermine their independent status—a fear confirmed by FIFA president Sepp Blatter.[293] England has been the most successful of the home nations, winning the World Cup on home soil in 1966, although there has historically been a close-fought rivalry between England and Scotland.




Cricket is claimed to have been invented in England and the England cricket team, controlled by the England and Wales Cricket Board,[294] is the only national team in the UK with Test status. Team members are drawn from the main county sides, and include both English and Welsh players. Cricket is distinct from football and rugby where Wales and England field separate national teams, although Wales had fielded its own team in the past. Irish and Scottish players have played for England because neither Scotland nor Ireland have Test status and have only recently started to play in One Day Internationals.[citation needed] Scotland, England (and Wales), and Ireland (including Northern Ireland) have competed at the Cricket World Cup, with England reaching the Final three times. There is a professional league championship in which clubs representing 17 English counties and 1 Welsh county compete.[citation needed]


Rugby league is a popular sport in some areas of the UK. It originates in Huddersfield, and is generally played in Northern England.[citation needed] A single 'Great Britain Lions' team had competed in the Rugby League World Cup and Test match games, but this changed slightly in 2008 when England, Scotland and Ireland competed as separate nations.[295] Great Britain is still being retained as the full national team for Ashes tours against, Australia, New Zealand and France. The highest form of professional rugby league in the UK and Europe is Super League where there are 11 teams from Northern England, 1 from London, 1 from Wales and 1 from France. Rugby union is organised on a separate basis for England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland and each have a top ranked international team and were collectively known as the Home Nations. The Six Nations Championship played between the Home Nations, Italy and France is the premier international tournament in the northern hemisphere.[citation needed] The Triple Crown is awarded to any of the Home Nations who beats the other three in that tournament.[citation needed]




The game of tennis first originated from the city of Birmingham between 1859 and 1865.[citation needed] The Championships, Wimbledon are international tennis events held in Wimbledon in south London every summer and are regarded as the most prestigious event of the global tennis calendar. Snooker is one of the UK's popular sporting exports, with the world championships held annually in Sheffield.[citation needed] In Northern Ireland, Gaelic football and hurling are popular team sports, both in terms of participation and spectating. Irish expatriates throughout the UK also play them. Shinty (or camanachd) is popular in the Scottish Highlands.[296]


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 and Royal Ascot. The UK has proved successful in the international sporting arena in rowing. Golf is the sixth most popular sport, by participation, in the UK. Although The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews, in Scotland, is the sport's home course,[297] the world's oldest golf course is actually Musselburgh Links' Old Golf Course.[298] The UK is closely associated with motorsport. Many teams and drivers in Formula One (F1) are based in the UK and drivers from Britain have won more world titles than any other country. The UK hosted the very first F1 Grand Prix in 1950 at Silverstone, the current location of the British Grand Prix held each year in July. The country also hosts legs of the World Rally Championship and has its own touring car racing championship, the British Touring Car Championship (BTCC).[citation needed]




The flag of the United Kingdom is the Union Flag (also referred to as the Union Jack). It was created by the superimposition of the Flag of England, the Flag of Scotland and Saint Patrick's Flag in 1801. 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. However, the possibility of redesigning the Union Flag to include representation of Wales has not been completely ruled out.[299] 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.[300] Britannia is symbolised as a young woman with brown or golden hair, wearing a Corinthian helmet and white robes. She holds Poseidon's three-pronged trident and a shield, bearing the Union Flag. Sometimes she is depicted as riding the back of a lion. At and since the height of the British Empire, Britannia has often associated with maritime dominance, as in the patriotic song Rule, Britannia!. The lion symbol is depicted behind Britannia on the British fifty pence coin and one is shown crowned 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.[301]




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