The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland comprises Great Britain (England, Scotland and Wales) and Northern Ireland. It possesses a number of overseas territories, though these are not strictly speaking, parts of it. Also known as simply the United Kingdom (UK), it is situated just off the north-western coast of mainland Europe, surrounded by the North Sea, the English Channel and the Atlantic Ocean.
England has existed as a unified entity since the 10th century. English conquest of the Principality of Wales (occupying the north and west of the country) was completed with the Statute of Rhuddlan in 1284, and in 1536 both the principality and the southern and eastern Welsh marcher lordships were incorporated into the English legal and political system. In the 1707 Acts of Union, the separate kingdoms of England and Scotland (though having shared the same monarch most of the time since 1603) agreed to permanent union as the Kingdom of Great Britain. Through the 1801 Act of Union, the Kingdom of Great Britain merged with the Kingdom of Ireland to form the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. With the formation of 26 Irish counties into the Irish Free State, with six northern Irish counties remaining part of the United Kingdom as Northern Ireland, in 1922, the country was renamed the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland in 1927.
The United Kingdom, the dominant industrial and maritime power of the 19th century, played a leading role in developing parliamentary democracy and in advancing literature and science. At its zenith, the British Empire stretched over one quarter of the earth's surface. The first half of the 20th century saw the UK's strength seriously depleted in two World Wars. The second half witnessed the dismantling of the Empire and the UK rebuilding itself into a modern and prosperous European nation. The UK is currently weighing the degree of its integration with continental Europe. A member of the EU, it has chosen to defer its participation in Euro Zone owing to internal political considerations. Constitutional reform is also a current issue in the UK. The House of Lords has been subjected to ongoing reforms and National assemblies with varying degrees of power were created in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland in 1999. Further assemblies for the English regions are also under consideration.
The United Kingdom is a member of the Commonwealth of Nations (successor organization to the former Empire), the European Union and NATO. It is also a permanent member of the UN Security Council and holds a veto power.
In form the United Kingdom is a constitutional monarchy but in practice it operates as a parliamentary democracy. It is governed from its capital, London (although see below). The UK's current monarch and head of state is Queen Elizabeth II who acceded to the throne in 1952 and was crowned in 1953. Today, her role is mainly ceremonial, with the country's real political authority being delegated to the Prime Minister.
The United Kingdom is a very centralized state, with London's Westminster Parliament holding responsibility for most of the political affairs of the Kingdom. In recent years however, each of the countries apart from England has been granted its own governmental body responsible in varying degree for some internal matters.
- The United Kingdom Parliament
- Number 10 Downing Street
- Gateway to UK governmental services and websites
- The British Monarchy
- History of the United Kingdom
- Office of National Statistics
- www.multimap.co.uk provides online maps and aerial photographs of the UK
- www.upmystreet.com detailed localised information about places in the United Kingdom
- CIA World Factbook: UK
- Maps of United Kingdom - UK maps and travel information
- Worldwide Press Freedom Index Rank 21 out of 139 countries (3 way tie)