The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (commonly known as the United Kingdom, the UK, or as Britain) is a sovereign state located off the northwestern coast of continental Europe. It is an island country, spanning an archipelago including Great Britain, the northeastern part of Ireland, and many small islands. Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK with a land border, 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 largest island, Great Britain, is linked to France by the Channel Tunnel.
The United Kingdom is a constitutional monarchy and unitary state consisting of four countries: England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. It is governed by a parliamentary system with its seat of government in London, the capital, but with three devolved national administrations in Belfast, Cardiff and Edinburgh, the capitals of Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland respectively. The Channel Island bailiwicks of Jersey and Guernsey, and the Isle of Man are Crown Dependencies and are often not considered part of the UK, though they are treated as part of it for many purposes including nationality. The UK has fourteen overseas territories, all remnants of the British Empire, which at its height in 1922 encompassed almost a quarter of the world's land surface, the largest empire in history. British influence can continue to be observed in the language, culture and legal systems of many of its former colonies.
The UK is a developed country, with the world's sixth largest economy by nominal GDP and the seventh 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 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 major power with strong economic, cultural, military, scientific and political influence. It is a nuclear power and has the fourth highest defence spending in the world. It is a Member State of the European Union, holds a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council, and is a member of the Commonwealth of Nations, G8, OECD, NATO, and the World Trade Organization.
On 1 May 1707, the Kingdom of Great Britain was created by the political union of the Kingdom of England (which included Wales) 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, already under English control by 1691, merged with the Kingdom of Great Britain to form the United Kingdom with the passing of the Act of Union 1800. Although England and Scotland had been separate states prior to 1707, they had been in personal union since the Union of the Crowns in 1603, when James VI King of Scots had inherited the throne of the Kingdoms of England and Ireland and moved his court from Edinburgh to London.
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 fueled the growing British Empire. During this time, the UK, like other great powers was involved in colonial exploitation, including the Atlantic slave trade, although with the passing of the Slave Trade Act in 1807 the UK took a leading role in combating the trade in slaves.
After the defeat of Napoleon in the Napoleonic Wars, the UK emerged as the principal naval power of the 19th century and remained an eminent power into the mid-20th century. The British Empire expanded to its maximum size by 1921, gaining the League of Nations mandate over former German and Ottoman colonies after World War I. One year later, the BBC, the world's first large-scale international broadcasting network, was created.
An election victory for Sinn Féin in 1918, followed by a war of independence in Ireland led to the partition of the island in 1921 followed by independence for the Irish Free State in 1922 with Northern Ireland opting to be part of the UK. As a result, in 1927, the formal name of the UK was changed to its current name, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. The Great Depression broke out at a time when the UK was still far from having recovered from the effects of the World War I.The United Kingdom was one of the 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 in the aerial campaign known as the Battle of Britain. After the victory, the UK was among the powers to help plan the postwar world. World War II left the United Kingdom financially damaged. However, Marshall Aid and costly loans taken from both the United States and Canada helped the UK on the road to recovery.
The immediate post-war years saw the establishment of the Welfare State, including among the world's first and most comprehensive public health services. Changes in government policy also brought people from all over the Commonwealth to create a multiethnic Britain. Although the new postwar limits of Britain's political role were confirmed by the Suez Crisis of 1956, the international spread of the English language meant the continuing influence of its literature and culture, while from the 1960s its popular culture also found influence abroad.
Following a period of global economic slowdown and industrial strife in the 1970s, the 1980s saw the inflow of substantial North Sea oil revenues and economic growth. The premiership of Margaret Thatcher marked a significant change of direction from the post-war political and economic consensus; a path that has continued under the New Labour governments of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown since 1997.
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 attitude of the present Labour government towards further integration with this organisation is mixed, with the Official Opposition, the Conservative Party, favouring fewer powers and competencies being transferred to the EU. 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.
The United Kingdom is 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 Crown has sovereignty over the Crown Dependencies of the Isle of Man and the Bailiwicks of Jersey and Guernsey, which are not part of the United Kingdom though the UK government manages their foreign affairs and defence and the UK Parliament has the authority to legislate on their behalf.
The United Kingdom has an uncodified constitution, as do only two 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 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 despite being established following public approval as expressed in referenda.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.
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 Gordon Brown MP, leader of the Labour Party, has been Prime Minister, First Lord of the Treasury and Minister for the Civil Service since 27 June 2007.
For elections to the House of Commons, the UK is currently divided into 646 constituencies, with 529 in England, 18 in Northern Ireland, 59 in Scotland and 40 in Wales, though this number will rise to 650 at the next General Election. 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.
The UK's three major political parties are the Labour Party, the Conservative Party, and the Liberal Democrats, who won between them 616 out of the 646 seats available in the House of Commons at the 2005 general election. Most of the remaining seats were won by 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.
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.
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 continuing leadership of First Minister Rhodri Morgan.
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).
Each of the countries of the United Kingdom has a separate system of local government, with origins that pre-date the United Kingdom itself. 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 is a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, a member of the G8, NATO, OECD, WTO, Commonwealth of Nations, Council of Europe, and a member state of the European Union. The UK's most notable alliance is its "Special Relationship" with the United States. Apart from the US and Europe, Britain's close allies include Commonwealth nations and others such as Japan. Britain's global presence and influence is further amplified through its trading relations and its armed forces, which maintain approximately eighty military installations and other deployments around the globe.
The Army, Navy and 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 United Kingdom fields one of the most technologically advanced and best trained armed forces in the world. According to various sources, including the Ministry of Defence, the UK has the fourth highest military expenditure in the world, despite only having the 27th largest military in terms of manpower. Total defence spending currently accounts for 2.5% of total national GDP. The Royal Navy is a blue-water navy, currently one of the few, 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.
The United Kingdom is one of the five recognised countries possessing nuclear weapons, utilising the Vanguard class submarine-based Trident II ballistic missile system.
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 at Ascension Island, Belize, Brunei, Canada, Diego Garcia, the Falkland Islands, Germany, Gibraltar, Kenya, Cyprus, and Qatar.
In 2005, the British Army had a reported strength of 102,440, the Air Force had 49,210 personnel and the Navy 36,320.
The United Kingdom Special Forces 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 regular 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 429,500, deployed in over eighty countries.
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. Setting aside the intervention in Sierra Leone, operations in Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq may all be taken as precedent. Indeed the last war in which the British military fought alone was the Falklands War of 1982, in which they were victorious.
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 appeal functions of the Appellate Committee of the House of Lords. The Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, comprising the same members as the Appellate Committee of the House of Lords, 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. 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 judgments 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, and often has persuasive effect in its other jurisdictions. On appeal, a court may over-rule the decisions of its inferior courts, such as County Courts (civil) and Magistrates' Courts (criminal). The High Court may also quash on judicial review both administrative decisions of the Government and delegated legislation.
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 2007/8. Despite the fall in recorded crime rates, 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.
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, with leave to appeal from the Court of Session not required as a general rule.
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 Sheriff Courts provide a local court service with 49 Sheriff courts organised across six Sheriffdoms. 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.
The Cabinet Secretary for Justice is the member of the Scottish Government responsible for the police, the courts and criminal justice, and the Scottish Prison Service, which manages the prisons in Scotland. Though the level of recorded crime in 2007/8 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.
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 in length and is a fraction under at its widest, but the greatest distance between two points is between Land's End in Cornwall (near Penzance) and John o' Groats in Caithness (near Thurso). Northern Ireland shares a land boundary with the Republic of Ireland.
The United Kingdom has a temperate climate, with plentiful rainfall all year round. The temperature varies with the seasons but seldom drops below or rises above . The prevailing wind is from the southwest, bearing frequent spells of mild and wet weather from the Atlantic Ocean. Eastern parts are most sheltered from this wind and are therefore the driest. Atlantic currents, warmed by the Gulf Stream, bring mild winters, especially in the west, where winters are wet, especially over high ground. Summers are warmest in the south east of England, being closest to the European mainland, and coolest in the north. Snowfall can occur in winter and early spring, though it rarely settles to great depth away from high ground.
Scotland accounts for just under a third of the total area of the UK, covering , including nearly eight hundred islands, mainly 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. 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 terrain, including Ben Nevis, which at is the highest point in the British Isles. Lowland areas, especially the narrow waist of land between the Firth of Clyde and the Firth of Forth known as the Central Belt, are flatter and home to most of the population including Glasgow, Scotland's largest city, and Edinburgh, the capital and political centre of the country.Wales accounts for less than a tenth of the total area of the UK, covering . Wales is mostly mountainous, though south Wales is less mountainous than north and mid Wales. The main population and industrial areas are in south Wales, consisting of the coastal cities of Cardiff (the capital, political and economic centre), Swansea and Newport and the South Wales Valleys to their north. The highest mountains in Wales are in Snowdonia, and include Snowdon (), which, at 1,085 m (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 1,200 km (750 miles) of coastline. There are several islands off the Welsh mainland, the largest of which is Anglesey (Ynys Môn) in the northwest.
Northern Ireland accounts for just and is mostly hilly. It includes Lough Neagh, at , the largest body of water in the UK and Ireland. The highest peak in Northern Ireland is Slieve Donard at in the Mourne Mountains.
The 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:
A Census occurs simultaneously in all parts of the UK every ten years. 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.
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-2008, this was estimated to have grown to 61,383,000. In 2008, natural population growth overtook net migration as the main contributor to population growth for the first time since 1998. 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. 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.
England's population in mid-2008 was estimated to be 51.44 million. It is one of the most densely populated countries in the world with 383 people resident per square kilometre in mid-2003, with a particular concentration in London and the South East. The mid-2008 estimates put Scotland's population at 5.17 million, Wales at 2.99 million and Northern Ireland at 1.78 million, with much lower population densities than England. Compared to England's , the corresponding figures were for Wales, for Northern Ireland and just for Scotland in mid-2003. 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.
In 2008, the average total fertility rate (TFR) across the UK was 1.96 children per woman. 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, below the replacement rate of 2.1, but higher than the 2001 record low of 1.63. Scotland had the lowest fertility at only 1.8 children per woman, while Northern Ireland had the highest at 2.11 children in 2008.
The proportion of foreign-born people in the UK remains slightly below that of some other European countries, although immigration is now contributing to a rising population, accounting for about half of the population increase between 1991 and 2001. Citizens of the European Union have the right to live and work in any member state and one in six immigrants were from Eastern European countries that joined the EU in 2004, with larger numbers coming from New Commonwealth countries, particularly South Asia. People from South Asia accounted for two-thirds of net immigration in 2005, mainly fueled by family reunion. Transitional arrangements apply to Romanians and Bulgarians whose countries joined the EU in January 2007.
Analysis of Office for National Statistics data shows that 2.3 million net migrants moved to the UK in the period 1991 to 2006, 84 per cent of them from outside Europe. In 2008 it was predicted that migration would add 7 million to the UK population by 2031, though these figures are disputed.
The latest official figures show that in the year to December 2008, net immigration to the UK was 118,000, down 44 per cent on the previous year. 512,000 people migrated to the UK and 395,000 left in 2008.
At least 5.5 million British-born people are living abroad, with Australia, Spain, the United States, and Canada being the top four destinations.
Figures published in August 2007 indicated that 682,940 people applied to the Worker Registration Scheme (for nationals of the central and eastern European states that joined the EU in May 2004) between 1 May 2004 and 30 June 2007, of whom 656,395 were accepted. Self-employed workers and people who are not working (including students) are not required to register under the scheme so this figure represents a lower limit on immigration inflow. These figures do not indicate the number of immigrants who have since returned home, but 56% of applicants in the 12 months ending 30 June 2007 reported planning to stay for a maximum of three months, with net migration in 2005 from the new EU states standing at 64,000.
Research suggests that a total of around 1 million people had moved from the new EU member states to the UK by April 2008, but that half this number have since returned home or moved on to a third country. One in every four Poles in the UK planned to remain for life, a survey has revealed. The late-2000s recession in the UK reduced the economic incentive for Poles to migrate to the UK, with the migraton becoming temporary and circular.
National Insurance data suggests that 2.5 million foreign workers moved to the UK to work (including those moving for short periods), the majority from EU countries, between 2002 and 2007.
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.
Historically, 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. However, 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.
Britain has a long history of immigration, with Liverpool having the oldest Black population in the country, dating back to at least the 1730s, and the oldest Chinese community in Europe, dating to the arrival of Chinese seamen in the nineteenth century.
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. As of 2001, 92.1% of the population identified themselves as White, leaving 7.9% of the UK population identifying themselves as mixed race or ethnic minority.
|Ethnic group||Population||% of total*|
|White||92.1%||Black||2.0%||Mixed race||1.2%||Indian||1.8%||Pakistani||1.3%||Bangladeshi||0.5%||Other Asian (non-Chinese or non-Indian)||0.4%||Chinese||0.4%||Other||0.4%|
Ethnic diversity varies significantly across the UK. 30.4% of London's population and 37.4% of Leicester's was estimated to be non-white 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. As of 2007, 22% of primary and 17.7% of secondary pupils at state schools in England were from ethnic minority families.
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.
Scots, a language descended from early northern Middle English, is recognised at European level. There are also four Celtic languages in use in the UK: Welsh, Irish Gaelic (generally just referred to as Irish), Scottish Gaelic and Cornish. In the 2001 Census over a fifth (21%) of the population of Wales said they could speak Welsh, an increase from the 1991 Census (18%). In addition, it is estimated that about 200,000 Welsh speakers live in England.
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. The number of schoolchildren being taught in Welsh, Gaelic and Irish is increasing. Welsh and Scottish Gaelic are also spoken by small groups around the globe with some Gaelic still spoken in Nova Scotia, Canada, and Welsh in Patagonia, Argentina.
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, 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.
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 major religion, followed by Islam, Hinduism, Sikhism and then Judaism in terms of number of adherents. The 2007 Tearfund Survey revealed 53% identified themselves as Christian which was similar to the 2004 British Social Attitudes Survey, and to the 2001 Census in which 71.6% said that Christianity was their religion, (though the latter used "a softer question.") However, the Tearfund survey showed only one in ten Britons actually attend church weekly.
There is also a large and growing atheist and agnostic population. In the 2001 census, 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. There is a disparity between the figures for those identifying themselves with a particular religion and for those proclaiming a belief in a God: a Eurobarometer poll conducted in 2005 showed that 38% of the respondents believed that "there is a God", 40% believed that "there is some sort of spirit or life force" and 20% said "I don't believe there is any sort of spirit, God or life force"
Christianity is the main religion in England with the Church of England (Anglican) the Established Church: 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. 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.
The Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales is the second largest Christian church with around five million members, mainly in England. 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. Among the Pentecostal churches are Elim Pentecostal Church and Assemblies of God in the United Kingdom. Other Christian groups include The Salvation Army, United Reformed Church, Assemblies of God, Plymouth Brethren, Baptist Union, Methodists, Congregationalists, Newfrontiers and house churches.
The presbyterian Church of Scotland (known informally as The Kirk), is recognised as the national church of Scotland and not subject to state control. The British monarch is an ordinary member and is required to swear an oath to "defend the security" of the church upon his or her accession. The Roman Catholic Church in Scotland is Scotland's second largest Christian church, representing a sixth of the population. The Scottish Episcopal Church, which is part of the Anglican Communion, dates from the final establishment of Presbyterianism in Scotland in 1690, when it split from the Church of Scotland and is not a 'daughter church' of the Church of England. Further splits in the Church of Scotland, especially in the nineteenth century, led to the creation of various other Presbyterian churches in Scotland, including the Free Church of Scotland.
In the 1920s, the Church in Wales became independent from the Church of England and became '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. Though Protestants and Anglicans are in the overall majority, the Roman Catholic Church of Ireland is the largest single church. The Presbyterian Church in Ireland, closely linked to the Church of Scotland in terms of theology and history, is the second largest church followed by the Church of Ireland (Anglican) which was disestablished in the nineteenth century.
Shri Swaminarayan Mandir]], A Hindu temple in London
At the 2001 census, there were 1,536,015 Muslims in England and Wales, forming 3% of the population. Muslims in Scotland numbered 42,557 representing 0.84% of the population. There were a further 1,943 Muslims in Northern Ireland. The biggest groups of Muslims are of Pakistani, Bangladeshi and Indian origin. According to a Labour Force Survey estimate, the total number of Muslims in Great Britain in 2008 was 2,422,000.
Over 1 million people follow religions of Indian origin: 560,000 Hindus, 340,000 Sikhs with about 150,000 practising Buddhism. One non-governmental organisation estimates that there are 800,000 Hindus in the UK. Leicester houses one of the world's few Jain temples that are outside of India.
There are approximately 270,000 Jews in Britain, according to the 2001 census.
The UK economy is made up (in descending order of size) of the economies of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Based on market exchange rates, the United Kingdom is today the sixth largest economy in the world and the third largest in Europe after Germany and France.
The Industrial Revolution started in the United Kingdom with an initial concentration on heavy industries such as shipbuilding, coal mining, steel production, and textiles. 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.
The British motor industry is a significant part of this 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 the second largest defence contractor in the world, BAE Systems, 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) being based in the UK.
The UK service sector, however, has grown substantially, and now makes up about 73% of GDP. The service sector is dominated by financial services, especially in banking and insurance. London 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 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). It has the largest concentration of foreign bank branches in the world. In the past decade, a rival financial centre in London has grown in the Docklands area, with the HSBC, the world's largest bank, and Barclays Bank relocating their head offices there. 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 and is the headquarters of the Royal Bank of Scotland Group, one of the world's largest banks.
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. 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).
The creative industries accounted for 7% GVA in 2005 and grew at an average of 6% per annum between 1997 and 2005.
The UK has a small coal reserve along with significant, yet continuously declining natural gas and oil reserves. Over 400 million tonnes of proven coal reserves have been identified in the UK. In 2004, total UK coal consumption (including imports) was 61 million tonnes, 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. An alternative to coal-fired electricity generation is underground coal gasification (UCG). UGC involves injecting steam and oxygen down a borehole, which extracts gas from the coal and draws the mixture to the surface—a potentially very low carbon method of exploiting coal. Identified onshore areas that have the potential for UGC amount to between 7 billion tonnes and 16 billion tonnes. Based on current UK coal consumption, these volumes represent reserves that could last the UK between 200 and 400 years.Government involvement throughout the economy is exercised by the Chancellor of the Exchequer (currently Alistair Darling) who heads HM Treasury, but the Prime Minister (currently The Rt Hon Gordon Brown MP), is First Lord of the Treasury; the Chancellor of the Exchequer is the Second Lord of the Treasury. In recent years, the UK economy has been managed in accordance with principles of market liberalisation and low taxation and regulation. 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 Scottish Government, subject to the approval of the Scottish Parliament, has the power to vary the basic rate of income tax payable in Scotland by plus or minus 3 pence in the pound, though this power has not yet been exercised.
As of July 2009, the UK's government debt was 56.8% of GDP.
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. The UK chose not to join the euro at the currency's launch, and the British Prime Minister, The Rt Hon Gordon Brown MP, has ruled out membership for the foreseeable future, saying that the decision not to join had been right for Britain and for Europe. 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.
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. 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%.
The poverty line in the UK is commonly defined as being 60% of the median household income. 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. 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.
Education in the United Kingdom is a devolved matter and each of the countries of the United Kingdom has a separate education system.
Education in England is the responsibility of the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families and the Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills, though the day to day administration and funding of state schools is the responsibility of Local Authorities (previously named Local Education Authorities). Universal state education in England and Wales was introduced for primary level in 1870 and secondary level in 1900. 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. Despite a fall in actual numbers, the proportion of children in England attending private schools has risen to over 7%. Just over half of students at the leading universities of Cambridge and Oxford had attended state schools. 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. 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. 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.
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; 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. Scotland first legislated for compulsory education in 1496. The proportion of children in Scotland attending private schools is just over 4%, although it has been rising slowly in recent years. 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.
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.
The National Assembly for Wales 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. 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.
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, operational responsibility of healthcare in the UK 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 executive asserts its governmental influence upon one of four National Health Services. Each health service has different policies and priorities, resulting in contrasts. Across the UK, there are medical schools and dental schools, and provisions for training nurses and professions allied to medicine.
Since 1979, expenditure on healthcare has been increased significantly to bring it closer to the European Union average. 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.
The Highways Agency is the executive agency responsible for trunk roads and motorways in England apart from the privately owned and operated M6 Toll. The Department for Transport states that traffic congestion is one of the most serious transport problems and that it could cost England an extra £22 billion in wasted time by 2025 if left unchecked. According to the government-sponsored Eddington report of 2006, congestion is in danger of harming the economy, unless tackled by road pricing and expansion of the transport network.
The Scottish transport network is the responsibility of the Scottish Government's Enterprise, Transport and Lifelong Learning Department with Transport Scotland being the Executive Agency that is accountable to the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Sustainable Growth for Scotland's trunk roads and rail networks. Scotland's rail network has around 340 railway stations and 3,000 kilometres of track with over 62 million passenger journeys made each year. In 2008, The Scottish Government set out investment plans for the next 20 years, with priorities to include a new Forth Road Bridge and electrification of the rail network.
Across the UK, there is a radial road network of of main roads with a motorway network of . There are a further 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. Urban rail networks are well developed in London and other cities. There was once over 48,000 route km (30,000 route mi) of rail network in the UK, however most of this was reduced over a time period from 1955 to 1975, much of it after a report by a government advisor Richard Beeching in the mid 1960s (known as the Beeching Axe). Plans are now being considered to build new high speed lines by 2025.
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.. It is the hub for the flag carrier British Airways, Virgin Atlantic, and BMI.
British sport is often subdivided by nation into English, Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish and/or Irish bodies.
Major sports including association football, rugby football, 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.
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.
Cricket is claimed to have been invented in England (though recent research suggests it was actually invented in Belgium) and the England cricket team, controlled by the England and Wales Cricket Board, 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. 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.
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. 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. 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.
The English football league system includes hundreds of inter-linked leagues, consisting of thousands of clubs. The Premiership at the top, is the most-watched football league in the world and is particularly popular in Asia. Below this, The Football League has three divisions and then the Football Conference has a national division and two feeder regional leagues. Thereafter the structure becomes increasing regional. English teams have been successful in European Competitions including some who have become European Cup/UEFA Champions League winners: Liverpool (five times), Manchester United (three times), Nottingham Forest (twice) and Aston Villa. More clubs from England have won the European Cup than any other country (four compared to three from Italy, Germany and the Netherlands). Moreover, England ranks second in the all time list of European club trophies won with 35, one behind Italy's 36. The European Cup competition itself came about as the result of the success of another English club, Wolverhampton Wanderers, against top European sides in the 1950s. The 90,000-capacity Wembley Stadium is England's principal sporting stadium.
The Scottish football league system has two national leagues: the Scottish Premier League, the top division, and the Scottish Football League, which has three divisions. Below this, but not connected to the national leagues, are three regional leagues; the Highland Football League, the East of Scotland Football League and the South of Scotland Football League. One English club, Berwick Rangers, plays in the Scottish system. Scotland is home to two world-renowned football clubs in the Old Firm of Celtic and Rangers. Scottish teams that have been successful in European Competitions include Celtic (European Cup in 1967), Rangers (European Cup Winners' Cup in 1972) and Aberdeen (European Cup Winners' Cup and European Super Cup in 1983). Celtic were the first British club to win the European Cup. Hampden Park is the principal stadium and home of the Scottish FA.
The Welsh football league system includes the Welsh Premier League and regional leagues. Welsh Premiership club The New Saints play their home matches on the English side of the border in Oswestry. The Welsh clubs of Cardiff City F.C., Colwyn Bay F.C., Merthyr Tydfil F.C., Newport County A.F.C., Swansea City A.F.C. and Wrexham F.C. play in the English system. Cardiff's 76,250 seater Millennium Stadium is the principal sporting stadium of Wales.
The Northern Ireland football league system includes the IFA Premiership. One Northern Irish club, Derry City, plays its football outside of the UK in the Republic of Ireland football league system. Windsor Park, Linfield F.C.'s 20,332-seater stadium, is also the home stadium of the national team.
Rugby league is played as a developing sport throughout the UK, but in Northern England, it is the main sport in many areas, particularly in Yorkshire, Cumbria and Lancashire in towns such as Wigan and St Helens. It also has a substantial presence in London and South Wales.
It originates from and is generally played in Northern England and 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.
Great Britain is still being retained as the full national team for Ashes tours against, Australia, New Zealand and France.
In 2013, The United Kingdom will host the Rugby League World Cup for the 5th time.
Rugby union is organised on a separate basis for England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland with each having a league system and a top ranked international team.
Rugby union is played as a minority sport throughout the UK, but has a number of heartlands, notably South Wales, the Scottish Borders, the English West Country and so on. It also has a substantial presence in Northern Ireland (RU is organised on an all-Ireland basis), Edinburgh, London, Leicester etc.
While England has won the Rugby World Cup, in 2003, Wales has achieved a best of third place and Scotland a best of fourth place. Ireland has not progressed beyond the quarter finals.
In 2015, England will host the Rugby World Cup for the second time.
Snooker is also one of the UK's sporting exports. The world championships are held annually in Sheffield while the sport continues to expand worldwide, with huge growth in China.
The game of tennis first originated from the city of Birmingham between 1859 and 1865. 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.
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 town of Newmarket is considered the centre of English racing, largely because of the famous Newmarket Racecourse.
The UK has proved successful in the international sporting arena in rowing. It is widely considered that the sport's most successful rower is Steve Redgrave who won five gold medals and one bronze medal at five consecutive Olympic Games, as well as numerous wins at the World Rowing Championships and Henley Royal Regatta.
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, the world's oldest golf course is actually Musselburgh Links' Old Golf Course.
Shinty (or camanachd) is popular in the Scottish Highlands, sometimes attracting crowds numbering thousands in the most sparsely populated region of the UK, especially to watch the final of its premier tournament, the Camanachd Cup.
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.
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 country hosts legs of the F1 and World Rally Championship and has its own touring car racing championship, the British Touring Car Championship (BTCC). The British Grand Prix takes place at Silverstone each July.
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. 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. 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.
'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 English playwright and poet William Shakespeare is widely regarded as the greatest dramatist of all time. 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 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, 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. 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.
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. A great role in the development of Arthurian legend, and early development of British history, was played by Geoffrey of Monmouth. The greatest Welsh poet of all time is generally held to be Dafydd ap Gwilym. 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, Richard Llewellyn and children's works by Roald Dahl. Modern writers in Welsh include 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 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 is the UK's publicly funded radio, television and internet broadcasting corporation, and is the oldest and largest broadcaster in the world. 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. The BBC World Service Radio is funded by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the television stations 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.
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.
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 the United Kingdom is .uk. However, a Scottish Government working group is making preparations to bid to create a Scottish web domain—".sco" or ".scot"—in 2009.
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. Its sister paper, the News of the World has the highest circulation in the Sunday newspaper market, and traditionally focuses on celebrity-led stories. The Daily Telegraph, a centre-right broadsheet paper, is the highest-selling of the "quality" newspapers. 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.
Aside from newspapers, British magazines and journals have achieved worldwide circulation including The Economist and Nature.
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.
Various styles of music are popular in the UK, from the indigenous folk music of England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, to heavy metal.
Prominent British contributors to have influenced popular music over the last 50 years include The Beatles, Queen, AC/DC, Bee Gees, 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.  The Beatles have international record sales of more than one billion. 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.
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 and some of his best works, such as Messiah, were written in the English language.
A number of UK cities are known for their music scenes. Acts from Liverpool have had more UK chart number one hit singles (54) per capita than any other city worldwide. 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.
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’. The most famous philosophers of British Empiricism are John Locke, George Berkeley and David Hume (who was himself Scottish), 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.
Other eminent philosophers from the UK and the states that preceded it include Duns Scotus, John Lilburne, Mary Wollstonecraft, William of Ockham, Thomas Hobbes, Bertrand Russell, Adam Smith 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. Other advances pioneered in the UK include the marine chronometer, the jet engine, the modern bicycle, electric lighting, the steam turbine, stereo sound, motion picture, the screw propeller, the internal combustion engine, military radar, electronic computer, aeronautics, soda water, nursing, antiseptic surgery, vaccination and 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.
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.
The flag of the United Kingdom is the Union Flag. 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. 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. 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.
|England||St. George||Tudor rose|
|Northern Ireland||St. Patrick||Flax/Shamrock|
There is no official National flag of Northern Ireland following the Northern Ireland Constitution Act 1973 or any unofficial flag universally supported in Northern Ireland. The use of various flags in Northern Ireland is contentious. However, the Ulster Banner is often used for sporting events. See Northern Ireland flags issue and The Union Flags and flags of the United Kingdom
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